Durham at a Glance
Location: Central North Carolina, part of the Research Triangle Area
Access: Interstates 40 and 85, Raleigh-Durham International Airport, Amtrak
Major Meeting Spaces: Durham Convention Center, Sheraton-Imperial Hotel Raleigh-Durham Airport at Research Triangle Park, Hamner Conference Center — North Carolina Biotechnology Center, E. Harvey Estes Conference Center, The Solution Center, Archie K. Davis Conference Center, JB Duke Hotel
Hotel Rooms: More than 8,000
Off-site Meeting Spaces: Washington Duke Inn and Golf Club, Carolina Theatre, Durham Arts Council, Durham Armory, Rizzo Center
Durham is a smart destination — literally.
Tucked in the middle of North Carolina, Durham has morphed from its can-do, blue-collar roots in the tobacco and textile industries into a flourishing leadership role in medicine, the performing arts and regional cuisine. As a bonus, Durham, along with Raleigh-Carey and Chapel Hill, is one of the three vertices of the 7,000-acre Research Triangle Park, the nation’s largest research park. Among RTP’s hundreds of businesses are such major companies as IBM and Bayer Crop-Science.
Thanks to this well-rounded personality, Bull City, a nickname garnered from Bull Durham Tobacco, hosts more than 3,500 meetings and conventions each year, from board meetings for 10 to citywide conventions for 10,000. Its meeting facilities range from conference centers and renovated tobacco warehouses to state-of-the-art theaters and public gardens and a convention center in the heart of town.
“Downtown Durham is a central gathering point for conventioneers who want to experience the city’s authenticity,” said Nick Hancock, director of sales and marketing for the Durham Convention Center. “It’s really active, not just nine to five. It’s a real foodie town with shops and storefronts that are occupied.”
Visitors also enjoy art galleries, museums and the Durham Bulls Athletic Park, which features luxury suites for up to 16 and the PNC Triangle Club, with room for 250.
Rife with meeting spaces, Duke University and North Carolina Central University are two miles from the convention center.
Many new businesses begin in one of Durham’s entrepreneurship clusters, such as the Downtown District and Research Triangle Park. Downtown incubators offer coworking spaces for one-day rentals there and on the park campus.
For overnights at the latter, the Sheraton Imperial Hotel Raleigh-Durham Airport at Research Triangle Park offers 34,000 square feet of flexible space and its own convention center.
“Durham has spent decades building a smart, innovative community with national corporations that have thriving startups,” said Shannon Groff, director of sales for the sales team of Discover Durham. More than 225 startups have launched in downtown Durham.
“We set ourselves apart from a tier-one city because we’re small enough to make you feel at home,” Groff said. “Durham embraces its diversity and multiculturalism. Everyone is welcome here.”
Major Downtown Meeting Sites
With 35,000 square feet of multifunction space, the Durham Convention Center boasts a 15,500-square-foot grand ballroom for up to 2,000 people. With 24-hour business and fitness centers, the 190-room Marriott Durham City Center is attached. Larger groups can use properties steps away: the 35-room Durham Hotel, the 125-room 21c Museum Hotel, the 74-room Unscripted and the 135-room Aloft. The Convention Center Complex also includes the Carolina Theatre, the Durham Armory and the Durham Arts Council.
“If groups need to add meeting space beyond our capacity, Carolina Theatre has a 1,000-plus-seat auditorium,” said Nick Hancock, director of sales and marketing for the Durham Convention Center. The circa-1926 theater screened the world premiere of the 1988 Durham-based baseball film “Bull Durham.”
A Tale of Two Venues
On the Duke University campus, the Washington Duke Inn was built in 1988 and named to honor the founder of the American Tobacco Company. Its 25,000-square-foot Executive Conference Center accommodates up to 600 attendees. With 271 guest rooms and suites, the inn has an 18-hole Robert Trent Jones-designed golf course — one of the state’s top 10 — that winds through part of Duke’s 7,000-acre urban forest.
North Carolina Biotechnology’s Hamner Conference Center has eight meeting rooms, a 170-seat auditorium, a video conference suite, two gallerias and a walled-in garden and patio.
From years of work-ethic experience, Durham knows all about team building. Out-of-the-box options can include rooftop yoga, trampoline and dodgeball competitions, axe throwing, paintball, laser tag, a 14-peddler Biker Bar and curling-on-ice — with instructions.
Teams can take a guided tour of the fascinating Duke Lemur Center, home to the largest collection of lemurs outside Madagascar; snap photos of these adorable, big-eyed primates; and pick the winning team photos.
With locations all over the Triangle, Durham Spirits Company offers cooking classes and corporate events, and attendees can discover culinary gems and hear about Durham’s gritty history on a Triangle Food Tour.
When business is finished, attendees can tap into a few of Durham’s nine breweries, four distilleries and a meadery. Beltline Brew Tours visits three breweries, with ample tasting time at each; the company’s motto is “You Drink! We Drive!”
Voted by USA Today as the Number One Gin Distillery in the U.S., Durham Distillery rents its taproom for groups. So does Trophy Tap and Table, one part craft distillery and one part Southern cuisine, with accommodations for 100.
In downtown Durham, Honeygirl Meadery ferments with true-source honey and fruits, flowers and herbs to make a variety of handcrafted meads.