By Cara Oxendine
NCCU Staff Writer
the Durham VOICE
Golden Belt Historical District, originally a textile factory with rich mill village history, is located in Northeast Central Durham and has been redeveloped to offer art space, office space, residential lofts, and retail space.
NECD is Durham’s worst area for drugs, violence and crime, but Golden Belt and its developers are helping to grow and revitalize this underserved community.
After the mill ceased operation in 1996, it was donated to the Durham Housing Authorities. It sat vacant for ten years before being bought by Scientific Properties, a real estate development firm that specializes in urban mixed use, new construction and historical adaptive re-use projects.
“In the past year Golden Belt has become quite the destination. People talk about it increasingly,” said Nancy Kitterman, leasing associate and programming director for GB developer Scientific Properties.
“Every third Friday we have quite a bit going on where we’ll have a new exhibition opening, and often times we’ll bring other programmatic vendors,” said Kitterman. “And our music venue will be opening in the spring.”
Allison Polish, author of “Golden Belt: Blank Canvas” explains Scientific Properties is more than a developer. “They are committed to nurturing independent entrepreneurs who can execute fresh ideas. SP wants to bring in new, different kinds of people and hopes to unite an inspiring, curious group of artists, entrepreneurs, and residents who desire dense arts energy.”
Today, Golden Belt is a seven-acre urban campus that consists of six restored heritage buildings remodeled into 37 live/work lofts, 35 working artist studios, and a central gallery. They celebrated their one-year anniversary on July 16.
Over 95 percent of the 100+ year-old manufacturing mill was reused and recycled to create a thriving arts community in NECD. SP believes spreading this arts energy to the residents and the rest of the community will revamp the area.
Aside from art exhibitions and live music, SP wants to offer theatre, dance performances, retail stores, and local cuisine.
So far, LabourLove Gallery, which opened in May, is the only retail store. The grand opening of the Cotton Room, the major catering and event space for GB, was held two weeks ago.
“It’s very much a center for creative aspirations. With the artist studios, we’ll have sort of the visual arts, with the music venue we’ll be representing music, and we’ve got this major event space, so it’s a real sense of community,” said Kitterman.
SP will work with tenants by giving them business advice and guidance, and will also review their business plans. They’ve also worked with Habitat for Humanity to rebuild nearby houses, as well as build new ones.
“We try to put people in touch with different resources that might work for them and collaborate when we can on different kinds of efforts,” said Kitterman.
“We are also encouraging home ownership by basically having a home ownership covenant on the deed with the house,” said Kitterman. “And rather than just sell them to someone who’s going to turn them into rental homes, we’ve made them affordable.”
According to a report by the City of Durham’s Department of Community Development, the home ownership rate in NECD is well below the city and state levels at 25 percent, meaning that approximately 75 percent of the properties are rentals.
The Golden Belt Manufacturing Co. is the last historic textile mill campus to be creatively restored and reused in the area. In the 1900s, it was one of two major job centers, and was responsible for processing cotton into thread and production of pouches for Bull Durham Tobacco. It was the area’s first textile mill and adjacent mill-worker housing.
Golden Belt Historical District is part of a larger neighborhood revitalization plan to uplift and restore NECD that is sponsored by a $35 million HOPE VI fund, a program designed to revitalize public housing projects and mixed-income developments.
The City obtained another $120 million in public and private investments to redevelop neighborhoods and infrastructure in NECD, and Golden Belt was the first step.