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Innovation District downtown makes room for Duke science labs

The Carmichael Building, pictured above, is being developed into an innovation and entrepreneurship hub.
The Carmichael Building, pictured above, is being developed into an innovation and entrepreneurship hub.

A hub for innovation and science is brewing in downtown Durham.

The Carmichael Building located on North Duke Street is currently being developed into an innovation and entrepreneurship hub for Duke faculty. Part of a 15-acre site dubbed Durham's Innovation District, the building will include laboratories and research space for studying the life sciences. Scott Selig, Duke’s Associate Vice President for Real Estate, said sees the Innovation District as a project that represents a trending movement nationwide.

“We’re really copying what is going on in other cities—Boston has Kendall Square, Seattle has South Lake Union. This is [Duke and Durham's] version of intertwining life science and innovation,” Selig said.

Both Duke’s Center for Human Genetics and Center for Diabetes will be moving to the building post construction, Selig said. Research opportunities may also soon arise in the district for graduate and undergraduate students.

Jessica Brock, managing director for Longfellow Real Estate—the district's Boston-based development firm—said she sees great potential in the project and has high hopes for its future.

“The 1.7 million square feet of mixed-use office space will become an environment for world class companies that are attracted to the area," she said. "We believe this will also increase the work force in Durham as a city."

Brock added she hopes to attract major pharmaceutical life science companies interested in partnering with Durham and Duke to also become tenants in the building.

Eric Toone, vice provost and director of the Innovation and Entreprenuership Initiative, said he believes that the Innovation District can have its greatest impact through the these partnerships and the ecosystem they could create.

“Currently, [Duke] doesn’t have a lot of people with experience developing and engaging in entrepreneurship," Toone said. "Durham has not historically been a hub for innovation. However, developments like Durham ID bring those types of people and needed infrastructure to the community. It draws people to the city who know how to create and develop companies."

Brock said she has been amazed by the support of the surrounding community regarding the development of the district.

"It’s really impressive how much people get what we’re trying to do—a full build out, a $500 million dollar project plus. It’s refreshing to see how all of the city really understands the value that this will create,” she said.

For students and faculty, this will mean research and fundamental discoveries made at Duke’s off-campus labs can now be publicized and aided by private companies.

In the spirit of this innovative and entrepreneurial movement, not all aspects of the district are finalized, Selig said.

"The whole idea is that we don’t put parameters on what this thing is or is not. The whole idea is for this to grow organically,” he said. “[Durham ID] will anchor Durham in technology and life science as a ‘cool’ place to be.”

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