Durham, N.C., is the latest university city to pursue an R&D-centric downtown development strategy, with the debut of the first component of a proposed 15-acre “Innovation District.”

 Envisioned to total 1.7 million square feet across 15 acres in the southern part of downtown Durham, the Innovation District aims to lure science and technology firms—and their coveted job opportunities—with a mix of new and renovated office and laboratory facilities, combined with convenient residential units, retail space, and restaurants, all in a region already recognized internationally as a hub for cutting-edge research and university resources.

Such projects are considered more appealing than the traditional model of greenfield research parks, in that they provide dynamic, work/live environments that foster collaboration between universities and private-sector companies, while also creating new economic development opportunities for underutilized urban neighborhoods with minimal investment in new infrastructure.

Durham’s Innovation District bears many similarities to the Innovation Square revitalization project currently underway in Gainesville, Fla. Unlike that project, which is being spearheaded by the University of Florida, Durham’s Innovation District is largely the effort of Boston, Mass., developers Longfellow Real Estate Partners, and Measurement Inc., a Durham-based educational testing company that owns a large number of properties in the area.

Still, Duke University has been actively involved in mapping out the Innovation District, with an eye toward consolidating related, yet currently dispersed departments and programs in the project’s buildings. The project’s first component, a 112,000-sq ft renovated tobacco warehouse, is the new home of Duke’s Molecular Physiology Institute.

The next phase of the Innovation District, scheduled to begin construction next year, calls for two office/laboratory buildings and a public park. Subsequent phases will add additional office/lab buildings, three residential structures totaling 300 units, and parking facilities.