Pictured above left of the post office is the historic Trust Building, circa 1920.
In recent weeks, construction workers began clearing out the five-story historic Trust building at the corner of Market and Main streets and adjacent the new 21c Museum Hotel in the heart of downtown Durham. They're painting its 110-year-old exterior ornamentation and prepping its floors, walls and ceilings for the modern and brightly-colored look and feel of its neighbor across the street, the building that houses 215 startup companies and 700 workers and has become known as American Underground @Main.
In January, less than a year after completing a two-floor expansion on Main Street
, American Underground (parent company of ExitEvent
) will open its third Durham startup campus in the Trust building. Once North Carolina's tallest tower, the structure has a history of entrepreneurism—it was occupied by two high-profile banker entrepreneurs and was home to Durham's first elevator.
Inside the new American Underground @Market Street
will be two floors of 25 offices for startup teams of five or 10 to occupy after they graduate from coworking desks or smaller offices across the street. The ground floor will house the flagship retail store of Runaway LLC, an American Underground tenant and designer of the popular DURM clothing line, and a free community Beatmaking Lab where the nonprofit ARTVSM will help Durham's youth create digital projects that range from coding to radio to film to music production.
On the top two floors will sit the 75 employees of marketing automation software company Windsor Circle, a poster child for both American Underground, where its first 12 employees moved in 2013 and grew the team until now, and Durham's increasingly nationally-recognized startup community. The Durham Convention & Visitors Bureau will also move its staff and Visitors Center to the building's first floor.
American Underground Chief Strategist Adam Klein says his team has fielded requests from across North Carolina and the Southeast to open additional campuses. But to meet a goal of housing 500 startups in Durham and making it the center of startup activity in the Southeast, they've had to "double down on Durham."
"You're seeing coworking spaces scale across the Southeast but we want to take a different direction by scaling deeply in the Triangle," he says. "This is the chance to have 300 to 500 companies in one community that are attracting investment and talent instead of spreading that energy to other cities."
After looking all over downtown for a place to meet the needs of growing startup teams, the Trust building offered "the opportunity to build density right in the heart of downtown Durham." AU @Market tenants will also get access to the conference rooms, common areas, events and amenities of the Main and American Tobacco campuses.
Klein hopes the larger office spaces will help keep companies a part of the startup community, while continuing to alleviate a major headache for a young and (often unpredictably) growing company—real estate.
Coworking and startup campuses are meant to offer affordable rents and short term leases but with many of the amenities found in class A office spaces so as to attract top talent. But traditionally, startups graduate to longer-term traditional space after they've hired several employees, regardless of whether they're profitable or out of the startup danger zone. The Market campus is another stepping stone to the larger spaces available at American Underground's sister campuses American Tobacco and DiamondView (overlooking the Durham Bulls Athletic Park), or in other parts of Durham.
The retail concept and creative space for youth are also an evolution of American Underground, which made a goal earlier this year to be the most diverse and inclusive tech hub in the world. That includes training up Durham youth of all races so they see opportunity in technology-oriented fields, and celebrating the history and culture of Durham, a key mission of Runaway through its clothing, art, events and other community activities.
Runaway founder Gabe Goetz said in a news release that "the space gives us an opportunity to sell our own products and showcase the work of local, like-minded artists and musicians" all while continuing to benefit from "the chance to network, gain valuable business insights and free pizza on Wednesdays" through the American Underground relationship.
Besides Windsor Circle, Klein expects a handful of existing startups in American Underground to move to the new building. That will leave space open for startups new to the community either in the Market or Main building (where offices have been 100 percent occupied).
And that all helps move toward that big goal of 500, Klein says: "By scaling deeply—meaning creating more density and connecting with youth earlier—this sets Durham up for a long-term ecosystem and commitment to entrepreneurship."