Thursday, June 14, 2012

21c Museum Hotel is the missing piece to Durham's economic development vision

It’s the move that promises to take Durham to the next level.  We’ve been here before - West Village, The Revolution Restaurant, The American Tobacco development, the Durham Performing Arts Center – all have taken Durham to a step beyond it’s former self.
 It’s happening again. 
Greenfire Development has partnered with 21C Museum Hotels to transform the Hill Building into one of the companies marque hotels that blends art, cultural center, resturant and luxury rooms to the Bull City.  The union between Greenfire and 21 C Museum Hotels promises to transform the old CCB headquarters into the place to be in downtown Durham.  It’s more than we hoped for when Greenfire purchased the building and began pitching it’s dream.
What makes this move so special is the company’s approach to the arts.  Anyone who has been to Lousiville, Kentucky knows about the fine art on display at the 21 C Museum hotel.  Philanthropist and contemporary art collectors Laura Lee Brown and Steve Wilson wanted to reverese the nasty trend of urban sprawl by revitalizing Lousiville, KY.  They teamed up with world-renowned architect Deborah Berke to revitalize a series of 19th century tobacco and Bourbon warehouses in Louisville’s downtown district. 
21C was an instant hit, and critics from Travel Leisure, The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, National Geographic Traveler have raved about their experience at the hotel.  The readers of Conde Nast Traveler Magazine voted 21 c Museum Hotel Lousiville among the top ten hotels in the world in 2009, 2010 and 2011 Reader’s Choice Awards.
Brown and Wilson have taken their vision that art can be a economic driver for a community to other places.  21c is under construction in Cincinnati, Ohio and Bentonville, Arkansas.  The Bentonville hotel will be owned by members of the Walton family. The Walton family owns 45% of Wal-Mart, a stake vauled at $85 million.
The Durham project will cost 45 million.  It will offer 125 hotel rooms, musuem space that will be open to the public and free, a resturant and bar,  more than 150 new permanent jobs, and more than 200 jobs for the construction of the project.  It will be a unique gathering place for those who visist Durham. 
If members of the city council give the nod for a incentive package Durham will be added to the list of places with a 21c Musuem Hotel.  The backing of the Durham City Council is important for reasons beyond minimizing the cost to get the project done.  It’s important that both the city and county  honor the worth of the project as a sustaintable econonomic development iniative.  Yes, it brings jobs to Durham.  It does all of that while drawing visitors to Durham.  People will come for the art.  They will also come for the Durham Performing Arts Center and all the other great things happening in downtown and throughout the city. 
Help me understand why the city council would say no?  They have to say yes.
I may be a bit selfish on this one. I love art.  I especially love contemporary art.  The thought of having the museum at NCCU,the Hayti Heritage Center,  the Nasher, the Arts Council and 21c Musuem Hotel all in the same city is incredibly attractive.  It enhances what has already begun in downtown Durham – a place to showcase art.  From the Art Walk, the wonderful local art displayed at local restaurants, bars and coffee houses to the places that display art, Durham is close to challenging Asheville as the art hub of North Carolina.
Did I mention admission is open to the public and free?
Add it to the list of why Durham is the best place to live in America.  As that cable guy says, “Get er done!
Check out the company link:


  1. I think the 21C hotel/arts complex would be fantastic and bring a high end "pizzaz" to downtown and Durham in general. But the key is probably getting the other museum entities in Durham (e.g. Nasher Museum, Durham Arts Council/Guild)to not bash the project and raise an army against it out of fear or some inferiority complex. I did not include NCCU in the above list because their focus is limited to African American artist, and the Hayti Center has an even limited place at the arts table. But, if it is free for the people and the complex is giving back certain tangibles to Durham residents and downtown business (unlike the abstract high brow intangibles coming from most museums)the project seems like a winner.

  2. My understanding is that Nasher supports this proposal.