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Durham’s downtown came back from brink with creative partnerships

September 26, 2019

Downtown Durham was in trouble. The North Carolina city was hit hard by the loss of industries like tobacco, textiles, farming and furniture, and the situation had become dire by the 1990s. Everything downtown, from the iconic brick tobacco buildings to textile factories, was shuttered.

“When those economies began to go away, the downtown pretty much collapsed,” said former Durham mayor Bill Bell, who held the position from 2001-17.

Bell said it was essentially a ghost town. Apart from government, the courts and a jail, he said the city was empty. At night, Durham literally went dark.

Somehow, miraculously, the city bounced back.

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