A Golden Era: Innovative Projects and Progress at Golden Belt Campus

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Golden Belt Campus at sunset
Photo courtesy of Golden Belt / Cushman & Wakefield

Golden Belt has changed a lot over the years. Once home to a successful cotton mill and bag mill tied to the textile and tobacco industry, the campus sat vacant for many years after the industry’s downturn. It was donated to the Durham Housing Authority in 1996.

Since then, innovative steps have been taken as different entrepreneurs and property owners took hold: Renovating one of the buildings as a business incubator; creating affordable space for the arts; and adding studios, apartments, retail and office space.

In 2016, New York-based LRC Properties utilized historic tax credits to embark on a complete renovation of the northern portion of the campus, including the 118-year-old cotton mill and power plant, uniting the final pieces of the complex. The mission now is to transform Golden Belt into something resembling a town square for East Durham, and it’s well on its way, providing creative space, large venues and exciting events for all ages.

The unique architecture of the mill lends itself beautifully to creative uses, whether that’s mixed-media arts, brewing beer, teaching yoga, designing a multi-acre solar farm or hosting events. Its creative vibe cannot be denied. The new Mill No. 1 development includes new, affordable artists’ workshops as well as a classroom and gallery programmed by Golden Belt artists. In addition to the individual studios, Golden Belt is home to a new gallery and workshop space for the Durham Art Guild.

Golden Belt is also home to Strata Solar, a solar power provider; WillowTree, an app development company; Moshi Moshi salon; Dogstar Tattoo; and Bikram Yoga. There is also about 200,000 square feet of office space, and building No. 6 is home to 37 residential loft spaces.

One of the most recent additions is Asheville-based brewery Hi-Wire; outside their doors sits SummerStage, specifically designed to showcase music and performing arts, most of which is free and open to the public.

SummerStage series at Durham's Golden Belt Campus
Photo by Ryan Moeller

The campus is committed to providing a community resource through no-cost, diverse and enriched fine arts and performing arts with the help of Cicely Mitchell, artistic director of SummerStage and co-founder of the Art of Cool Project. With Cicely’s help, SummerStage creates events for everyone: artists, young professionals, local families and health gurus.

On Wednesdays, Steven Munoz hosts SuperJam Sessions – free, open jam sessions for musicians of all ages and skill sets.

Every Sunday, you can grab a seat on the lawn and enjoy good vibes, food trucks and a cold brew from Hi-Wire during Brunches Brew, a weekly jazz jam brunch featuring sounds from Zoocrü’s Alan Thompson and friends.

Free fitness programming is offered on the lawn once a month from some of the area’s best instructors.

Golden Belt also takes part in the Third Friday Art Walk (another free program) where people can visit the warehouse studios and see the resident artists’ work on display. There is also simultaneously an outdoor concert, food and fun on the SummerStage.

Come out to see a movie on the SummerStage lawn every fourth Friday. Each free film is part of a selection curated by Lana Garland, artistic director for the annual Hayti Heritage Film Festival.

As for family-friendly fun, one Saturday each month is dedicated to the Family Fun series, where kids and parents can enjoy free activities, such as drum circles, dance and science demonstrations.

For those interested in learning more about the latest happenings, the campus holds community informational sessions every two to three months to update the neighborhood on construction progress and the status of these initiatives. Neighbors are invited to join these sessions or come out for a personal tour of the development.

And for all you foodies, there are restaurant-related plans in the works. Ultimately, there is space for about four to five food and beverage operators, and the first restaurant on the south side of the campus is currently completing the leasing process. Golden Belt is intentionally seeking a wide representation of cuisines and price points to serve tenants and the community. “These restaurants are going to take the Golden Belt SummerStage to the next level,” Cicely says.

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Amber Watson

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