When Phail Wynn, Jr. first visited 700 W. Main Street more than two decades ago, the front lobby of what was then Liggett & Myers Tobacco Company headquarters boasted packets of free cigarettes and walls decorated with “Thank You for Smoking” signs. By 2007, when the building sat empty and shuttered, Wynn was newly appointed as Vice President for Durham and Regional Affairs and was looking for a downtown office to anchor Duke’s work in the Durham community. It was a perfect fit.
“Back when I first visited, Liggett & Myers had 1,800 or so employees in this downtown area, all in cigarette manufacturing,” Wynn said. “I thought, what a great irony that we could occupy this same building but with the Duke sign out front, now that the university and health system have about 2,000 employees working downtown in completely different fields — namely education, healthcare and research.”
With 528,000 square feet in American Tobacco, Brightleaf Square, West Village and other venues, Duke leases 20 percent of downtown’s available office space. Further downtown development is a key goal for Durham and Regional Affairs, through efforts like the transit route slated to link Duke and downtown Durham and expected to bring greater campus support for downtown business.
The office’s ongoing efforts to support the heart of Durham include continued downtown revitalization through the creation of new local businesses and the recruitment of existing businesses to the downtown scene.
“Duke is emerging from its former role as a silent partner and investor in Durham,” Wynn said. “It’s signficant that through our adaptive re-use of an historic downtown building, we have an office on Main Street that’s symbolic of our pride in Durham and our prominent role as a partner in Durham’s development.”