It’s Wednesday night in downtown Durham, and the streets are wet and puddled after a day of rain. Empty parking spots are nearly nonexistent on West Main Street as dressy people fill the tables of Dame’s Chicken and Waffles, Pizzeria Toro, Taberna Tapas and other restaurants. After they’ve dined, some will visit nearby retailers, including Exotique boutique, which Lola and Yemi Olufolabi, a professor at Duke University, opened in 2006. In their first years, they often closed their art, jewelry and clothing store at 4 p.m. because there was so little foot traffic downtown. Now, they often stay open until 9 p.m. “People are actually excited about it,” Lola says. “People from Raleigh come over. It’s so different.”
Four hotels opened in downtown Durham in 2015: The 17-story 21C Museum Hotel, the six-story Aloft Durham Downtown hotel, the boutique Durham Hotel and a Residence Inn by Marriott. Until now, the only lodging downtown was the 189-room Durham Marriott Civic Center, opened in the 1980s. There’s also an emergence of apartments and townhomes with 20- and 30-somethings moving in. Some work at the nearby American Underground startup hub, where seven companies were acquired in 2015 for a combined $1.5 billion.
Raleigh is 25 miles down the road, and on this same Wednesday night, restaurants in the Glenwood South district – from sushi to Thai food to hot wings at the Hibernian Pub – are packing people in. Standing at the corner of Glenwood Avenue and West North Street, Kim McEldowney is out for a breather in the moist December air. She opened the Loud City Smoke Shoppe six months ago after moving to the Triangle to take care of her ailing father. She planned to return to New Jersey, but Raleigh struck her as having such a vibe, she decided to stay. “Why do you think I opened up a store here?” she says. “Everywhere I go, I see building going on.”
Across the street, catty-corner to her shop, high-rise condominiums are under construction. They’re among about 1,840 downtown residential units opened or close to completion since January 2015, according to the Downtown Raleigh Alliance. In addition, more than $500 million in new construction in Raleigh’s city center will have been finished or underway by early 2016. Jobs have streamed in, too: Tech firms have created nearly 2,000 positions in downtown in the last five years, the alliance says. Forbes rated Raleigh as the second-fastest city in the U.S. growing new tech jobs.
The appeal of downtown Durham and Raleigh isn’t unnoticed by the Research Triangle Foundation, which is starting a $50 million public-private project to make its internationally known suburban office park into a more interesting place to live, work and play. Durham County and the foundation each pledged $20 million, while park businesses approved a service-district tax increase expected to raise $10 million. Initial plans call for rehabbing the Park Center office park with apartments, 300,000 square feet of retail space, hotels and a 5,000-seat amphitheater. The repositioning gained juice with Alexandria Real Estate Equities’ plans for a 1-million square-foot hub for life-science and ag-technology companies over the next decade. CEO Joel Marcus says he aims for an urban-like environment on the 56-acre campus — perhaps like downtown Durham or Raleigh.
DURHAM — Premier Research will add 260 jobs to its 62 and invest $4.1 million over five years. The Philadelphia-based contract-research organization employs 1,000 people in 50 countries. The new jobs will pay an average annual salary of $73,296, higher than Durham County’s $58,231. Premier could receive up to $2.58 million in state incentives if it meets hiring and investment goals.
DURHAM — Frontier Communications will add 200 jobs and invest $4.3 million to expand its local office. Based in Norwalk, Conn., the nation’s fourth largest telecom company employs 18,600 workers, including 250 in the state. Jobs will pay an average annual salary of $47,000. Frontier could receive up to $880,500 in state grants.
DURHAM — WillowTree will create 98 jobs in Durham over the next three years. Founded in 2007, the Charlottesville, Va.-based software company’s clients include Johnson & Johnson, GE and PepsiCo. New jobs will include software developers, designers and project managers and will pay an average annual salary of $83,333.
Cary — Jim Davis resigned as chief marketing officer of SAS Institute after 21 years with the company. He will take a similar position at Informatica, a privately held, Redwood City, Calif.-based software developer. His replacement was not been named as of mid-December.
DURHAM — Timothy Creech was named chief financial officer at Heat Biologics, a cancer drug developer based here. Creech held various positions at Raleigh-based Salix Pharmaceuticals before its $11 billion acquisition by Valeant Pharmaceuticals last year.
Cary — Jim Davis resigned as chief marketing officer of SAS Institute after 21 years with the company. He will take a leadership position at Informatica, a privately held, Redwood City, Calif.-based software developer. His replacement has not been named.
MORRISVILLE – Netsertive raised an additional $9 million, adding to its $15 million round of funding in October. The digital-marketing company ranked 128th on Deloitte’s list of fastest-growing tech companies by in North America, with 688% growth over the last three years.
SOUTHERN PINES – First Bank Insurance Services, a subsidiary of First Bancorp, acquired Bankingport, a Sanford-based insurance agency started in 1948, for an undisclosed amount. Based here since 2013, First Bancorp has 88 branches in the Carolinas and $3.3 billion in assets. Its insurance division has offices here and in Troy.