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What is the future of this Durham cultural campus? 

Golden Belt, owned by Scientific Properties, is for sale.

Photo by Jeremy M. Lange

Golden Belt, owned by Scientific Properties, is for sale.

Golden Belt, home to artists, galleries, retail shops and other cultural amenities in Durham, is for sale.

The INDY reported Sunday that Durham-based Scientific Properties, the owners of the refurbished textile mill, are seeking new investors for the seven-acre complex at East Main and Fayetteville streets.

Gary Kueber, CEO of Scientific Properties, said Monday that his group is "testing the waters" for investment groups, although the day-to-day operations might not change. "We don't have a specific notion of what that means at the property level, but hopefully it remains the same," he said.

Kueber declined to disclose financial details for the property but said Golden Belt has been financially successful since it opened in summer 2008, noting the complex is 93 percent leased. There is 10,000 square feet of vacant commercial space in Golden Belt, according to its website.

Vacancy rates for the 37 lofts have been low, ranging from 0 to 10 percent. Loft sizes run from 890–1,260 square feet, with rents of $975 to $1,375 per month, According to the Durham VOICE, a community newspaper housed in Golden Belt.

One other Scientific Properties holding is also for sale: The Elkins Chrysler property in the block bounded by Roxboro and Mangum streets and Dillard Street and the Durham Freeway.

However, the Venable Center on Roxboro Street and 401 Arts on Foster Street, are not on the market, Kueber said.

Officials with Downtown Durham Inc., the city's marketing arm for revitalization efforts, could not be reached over the holidays to discuss the potential sale, but Golden Belt has been touted as a key to restoring a neighborhood once riddled with blighted homes and abandoned buildings.

While Golden Belt has carved out a niche among Durham's creative class, it is located on the fringe of downtown. The Bull City Connector, the free downtown circulator, stops at Golden Belt, but the half-mile stretch from the city center to Fayetteville Street is not pedestrian-friendly. While East Main is flanked by attractive condos on one side, across the street is a series of parking lots, abandoned buildings and junkyards with chain-link fences.

Without that direct connection to the city's core, Golden Belt has not fully enjoyed the benefits of the downtown renaissance. For example, business was slow at Blend Cafe, a coffee shop inside the complex, which has since closed.

Kathryn Moore, owner of Dogstar Tattoo, said she was unaware of the sale. Dogstar sits on the corner of the development, occupying a clean, loft-style space facing East Main Street. Moore said business has been "difficult" since the move, a problem she blames on lost pedestrian traffic and customers' inability to find her studio, which used to be on Ninth Street.

Despite several signs listing businesses, navigating Golden Belt's many floors and nooks can be difficult.

Golden Belt opened as a textile mill in the early 1900s and diversified its operations over the decades to include cigarette packaging. In 1996, the aging structure was donated to the Durham Housing Authority, and in 2006, Scientific Properties founder Andy Rothschild purchased the complex with the goal of turning the property into a mixed-use hub. Scientific Properties' website also notes the group purchased blighted housing in the adjacent neighborhood for renovation or replacement.

Golden Belt has been noted for its green-friendly design, including LEED Gold Certification in 2009 by the U.S. Green Building Council.

Many Golden Belt tenants were unavailable for interview over the holidays. Its commercial tenants include Moshi Moshi Salon, a Bikram Yoga studio and Salutations, a stationery store and gift boutique.

Moore said she doesn't know what new investors could mean for her business. "You never know if the new ownership is going to be tattoo-parlor friendly," she said. "The stereotype is we're hooligans or miscreants. But Dogstar is a different kind of parlor."

She credits the building ownership for maintaining the structure, as well as green-friendly components such as energy-efficient lighting for helping her business make ends meet.

Moore said she hopes the new investors will foster a better retail climate at Golden Belt.

This article appeared in print with the headline "Wanted: New investors for Golden Belt."

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