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Historic downtown Durham gets a face-lift

By Ken Johnson, Staff Writer

Ken Johnson/STAFF *Cutline*
Ken Johnson/STAFF
Student apartments are in the middle of construction on Main Street in downtown Durham

Downtown Durham is bustling with construction activity. On Madbury Road, work on Madbury Commons is going strong. When completed, Madbury Commons will hold student apartments, retail space and UNH’s InterOperability Laboratory, which has already signed a 20-year lease.

“[Madbury Commons] is well under way and they are planning to be open for business for August/September of 2015,” said Durham Town Administrator Todd Selig.

A mixed-use project is going in on Main Street, where Pauly’s Pockets and Hair Excitement stand, Selig said. The upstairs level of the new building, which is owned by Pauly’s Pockets, will be student housing and the first level will be an additional 6,000 square feet of commercial space. Both Pauly’s Pockets and Hair Excitement will be remaining where they are.

Also on Main Street near the intersection with Church Hill, Orion Development is putting in a new complex. In the rear of this development will be student housing. The two current buildings, which are across from the Durham Post Office and appear to be floating at the moment, are historic and will be refurbished.

“Both of those two historic buildings will be fully refurbished to their original historic conditions,” Selig said.

Two new buildings will be built between the existing historic ones and will be built to look historic. The buildings along Main Street in this development will be for commercial use. The development had to be approved by the Durham Historic District Commission, because it lies within Durham’s historic district.

Moving on to Madbury Road by Wildcat Pizza, Mark Henderson is building an infill development between the existing structures. This building will be another mixed-use building with housing above, commercial space and underground parking.

What does all this mean for the town of Durham?

“When the construction that you see ongoing today is complete, it will add approximately $60 million to the tax base in Durham,” Selig said.

The commercial space could result in new businesses, restaurants, and various goods and services for the entire Durham community.

“In addition you’ll have students living upstairs in the buildings that will all be professionally managed, many of which will have on-site management, and when those students need to purchase products, the downtown merchants will be in a very strong position to win their business,” Selig said.

The town of Durham is also working with the University of New Hampshire to put in a parking garage somewhere.

Studies have been done on downtown parking and they have determined it was under-utilized, Selig added.

General parking has been added to Madbury Road and Garrison Avenue, and permit parking for businesses has been added to Strafford Avenue.

“We believe that with the parking that we’ve added and the better distribution of parking through our tiered pricing system that we will be able to manage the increased demand that this new construction will create,” Selig said.

With all the construction and new developments in mind, Selig said there has been a concern by some that Durham might lose its current charm and identity.

“The reality is that Durham is experiencing more change today than it has probably ever seen in its history in such a short period of time,” Selig said. “The Durham Town Council, the Durham Planning Board, and our staff are taking this very seriously.  We’re watching extraordinarily carefully and we are constantly fine-tuning our ordinances to help us get at our vision for our downtown.”

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