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'Gravitation of interesting corporations': Trask has grand vision for Central Campus

Could Central Campus go from student housing to premier research park? Outgoing Executive Vice President Tallman Trask thinks it’s doable.

Trask outlined his vision for Central in an interview with The Chronicle. He hoped it becomes something like the Stanford Research Park, where companies and organizations can set up shop on 50 acres of land near a premier research institution. Central closed down this summer, and the University is currently demolishing the apartments.

"I'm assuming there will be a gravitation of interesting corporations and institutes around here, and a lot of them would like to be near a university,” Trask said. 

The University announced Friday that Trask will retire in Fall 2020, so he won’t be around to see the development of the now-vacant campus.  He has advised current administrators against rushing construction on Central with one-off projects in order to yield the best results long-term. 

Trask mentioned that the Triangle is the fourth-most educated region in the United States, and the cost of living is cheaper than in other major hubs like Silicon Valley. Given that Durham is home to a growing downtown, a top-ten university and now, more available land than either Raleigh or Chapel Hill, he believes the city has exciting potential for organizations to come here. 

Currently, Trask added, Duke cannot let for-profit companies work in on-campus buildings because those buildings were debt-financed on a tax exempt basis. If Duke allowed for-profit companies to operate out of  buildings like the French Family Science Center or Center for Interdisciplinary Engineering, Medicine and Applied Sciences (CIEMAS), the University would be jeopardizing its nonprofit status.

"If this naturally evolves, it'll be really interesting,” he said. “If you try to force it, you'll get the wrong thing.”

Buildings on Central Campus still have to be torn down, which Trask believes has been progressing “slow.” He remarked how the asbestos in the buildings was more pervasive than the University thought it was going to be, so the demolition is taking a lot longer and costing a lot more than they had planned. However, he said all apartments should be torn down in a couple months.

Around a decade ago, Trask explained, the grand plan for Central was to be a place on campus where seniors would want to live. Then the Great Recession hit, plus Student Affairs wanted classes dispersed across campus, so the idea got killed before it could begin. 

Another master plan for Central was the New Campus, which would have put residential, academic and arts buildings along Campus Drive. Trask said that administration realized Campus Drive was too far away from existing structures on West Campus, and Duke decided to construct the Brodhead Center and Hollows Quad instead.

Duke has realized students want to live on West, Trask noted. He is looking for places on the main campus to put new dorms to replace apartments at 300 Swift, which he said should be for graduate housing. He’s thought about places by Edens Quad, possibly even somewhere between Hollows Quad and Edens. 

The corner of Towerview and Union Drive is another option, he said, but it would have to match the architecture of Crowell Quad. Per-bed, Hollows is the most expensive dorm Duke has built—but having a hypothetical new dorm look like Crowell would cost 50% more, he added. 

He would like the new dorms on West to be built by 2025, but could not guarantee a set date.

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