Thursday, January 20, 2011

A Marketer’s Perspective on Downtown Durham’s Resurgence

A lot of people take credit for the resurgence to Downtown Durham.  Too many give me far too much credit and a few foolishly attempt to re-write history.

For anyone who wasn’t here in 1989, let me share some perspective.

It is true that my arrival that year to help start the community’s first official destination marketing organization occurred five years prior to the staffing of Downtown Durham Inc. as a focal point for revitalization.Capture

As DCVB set up shop, it was very clear that thousands of people were already working hard to bring Downtown back to life including those listed below:

  • Brightleaf Square was already a huge success and other private developers had breathed life back into many historical buildings, particularly as residential lofts along Main Street.



  • Both City and County governments had already initiated streetscape, erected parking decks and a convention center and constructed/adapted/leased office space.


  • Miles Wolff had already revived the Durham Bulls with attendance nearing 300,000 at the old DAP and both had starred in a hit movie and become a bellwether for revival of MiLB.


  • The Carolina Theater was already thriving as an “art” movie house and film festival venue and Man Bites Dog Theater, along with other store-front theater companies, was already shaping Downtown’s reputation for performing arts.




Those noted above represent but a small fraction of what was already revitalizing Durham as I arrived in 1989.

So what then can be attributed to DCVB?  Nothing that unique. First came research to identify and catalogue a comprehensive inventory of:

- heritage, historical, architectural and cultural background

- everything to see and do

- everywhere to eat and stay

- everything distinctive and unique

- every barrier including misinformation, misperceptions and physical

Then Informed by this research and data:

  • DCVB shaped Durham and Downtown’s stories, weaving them into a blend of marketing activities including the following seven which are specific to Downtown:


  • Publication and wide distribution of a Downtown Walking Tour which included nearly 100,000 copies in the first few years, closing on 1 million copies to date both to inform and generate visitor circulation.  The story of Downtown was also woven into all other Durham visitor literature, videos and websites.


  • A non-stop barrage of publicity, first to re-educate editors and reporters and then stimulate stories about Downtown across the state and nation, an effort that continues today.


  • Defense of Downtown’s identity and brand which at the time was generalized with other neighborhoods in the core while at the same time dissected to isolate Brightleaf as a separate area.


  • Initiation of “districts” beginning with Brightleaf, Chesterfield, City Center and Old Bull (now called American Tobacco.)


  • Publication of the results of fact-finding to overcome misperceptions among banks, feasibility consultants, commercial and residential real estate professionals and residents.


  • Paid special attention to Downtown events in the DCVB-created and maintained community-wide official Durham event calendar.


  • Positioned the Durham Convention Center with meeting planners and booked of events to showcase Downtown and its potential.

Sound familiar?  It should if you live in Durham, and so should many other activities in which DCVB remains actively involved in promoting every part of Durham including Downtown.

This isn’t extraordinary and it shouldn’t take away from the heavy lifting by the City of Durham, the County of Durham and Downtown Durham Inc., the non-profit vehicle they have funded, nurtured and grown as the point organization for this part of the Bull City.

Credit also goes numerous developers who not only reap the benefits of all of these organizations but contribute significantly to this resurgence and for whom, even today, DCVB remains a go-to organization for assistance in overcoming misperceptions about Downtown.

So maybe the past truly is prologue to the future and there is plenty of credit to go around in the broad arc of Downtown’s resurrection.

As another wise man said, “nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime.”

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