“Do you know what this is going to be?” Waiting outside of the former Durham health services facility at 300 East Main Street, just down from Old Havana Sandwich Shop, a string of passersby stop to inquire as construction workers busy themselves.
The abandoned building at the corner of Roxboro and Main will soon be three levels of office space. A fourth level, at the top, will be the home of the building’s new owners, Kimberly Jenkins and Mac Chisholm. Both Kimberly and Mac have worked for years with entrepreneurs – Kimberly is in technology and counts Bill gates and Steve Jobs among her former bosses, and mac is in life science and medicine. Kimberly, a Duke alumna, is also senior advisor to the president and provost for innovation and entrepreneurship at the university. The couple mentor plenty of people, are angel investors, and are involved at American Underground.
Which leads to this project at 300 East Main. “Once you get your money,” Kimberly says of the burgeoning companies there, “and you start to grow, then where do you go?”
Kimberly and Mac will soon be able to enjoy the walkability of downtown, where so much of their work is and where so many of their friends live, while also adding to the city’s robust nature.
They looked at nine buildings downtown. Nothing compared to this one. Built in 1924 by the Freemasons, in 1938 the building was forfeited by the Masons to the mortgage holder (an insurance company), according to Open Durham. The property was then purchased by the county for use as a health department. It was dubbed the Eligibility Building because this is where Durhamites came to be assessed for eligibility benefits. In 1992, the health department moved down the block, leaving the building vacant. Most recently, it was used as an event space.
“It will be stunning,” Mac says as we look at the top floor’s progress. It will be almost an entirely open space, save for the bathrooms and laundry room, and will include a mezzanine with a fitness area and a sitting area. It will also be huge.
Kimberly says they plan to host storytellers, comedy acts and private concerts in their home – 50 folding chairs can be set up easily. She and Mac married in late December 2013 and are hoping this space will be done in time for their anniversary this year. “We’d love to have a New Year’s Eve party this year with a DJ,” she says.
A geothermal energy system will reduce energy costs, and outside, they’ll create green space instead of a parking lot.
“Our tenants will be out there eating lunch on a day like this,” Mac says.
An abandoned building is on the verge of being rescued, more jobs will come downtown as a result, and one more couple will be able to walk to their favorite restaurants, galleries and performing arts venues. It’s another win for downtown Durham.