‘An epicenter of activity and enjoyment’
When they first saw the building that would become Motorco Music Hall on Rigsbee Avenue, business partner Mike Webster said it looked like a building they should invest in.
“It had great site lines – it looked like it would be good for a music venue,” said Webster, who is one of four partners in the now more than 3-year-old music venue that opened in what was previously an auto showroom at 723 Rigsbee Ave.
At the time, he said the building was on the precipice of either “being reborn or demolished.” Webster said they invested money to add heating and electric, plumbing, and other needed features.
The idea for the venue was born out of a conversation between neighbors, he said. When they launched the venue, business was spotty, he said, but they’ve been able to attract a range of events and acts, and he said they’ve recently become profitable. They’ve also started serving food from their kitchen, which is called Parts & Labor, and now have a garage bar.
“It’s a strange mix of stuff and we don’t always have the same clientele coming in depending on what the event is, but I think we’ve got a pretty broad appeal,” Webster said. “We’ve essentially, we’ve put every dime that we’ve taken out of this place back into it. It’s really been a do-it-yourself project,” he added.
Alex Washburn, a New York City-based architect and urban designer, is manager of the limited liability company that bought the Motorco property and an adjacent parking lot in 2007. It was after he came to Durham as an architect involved in the redevelopment of American Tobacco, he said.
A UNC-Chapel Hill graduate and the former chief urban designer in New York’s Department of City Planning, Washburn is now an industry professor and the founding director of the Center for Coastal Resilience and Urban Xcellence at the Stevens Institute of Technology.
In addition to owning the Motorco property, Washburn also was one of the founders of the group behind the redevelopment of Durham’s Trinity Lofts at the corner of Trinity Avenue and Washington Street corner into condos.
Washburn said he saw an opportunity for downtown Durham from ballpark to ballpark. The Rigsbee Avenue property wasn’t active in 2007, he said. It had a couple of old cars sitting on it, he said. The property was previously a car showroom.
“What we were hoping for was finding people to work with that would reawaken the neighborhood,” Washburn said. “Motorco has done a wonderful job; that corner has become sort of an epicenter of activity and enjoyment of the city.”
Washburn said he’s wanted to develop the property, but “no one would know exactly when the right moment is.” Speaking in general, he said “we should all” want existing businesses in the area to be able to continue and thrive.
“That should be a goal of urban development everywhere, and particularly here, where we have such a cool mix of people,” he said. “The building forms may change, the doors may be here or there, but it’s essential to maintain a mix, and that requires a commitment to flexibility from all properties. From the city, from the tenants, from the builders, from the community that frequents these things.”
Webster said Motorco is about midway through a seven-year lease for the building. They’re now in lease negotiations, he said.
While he said he knows about the redevelopment plans, he doesn’t know “what it entails for Motorco exactly.”
“Every plan I’ve heard from Alex and those guys that are planning to develop the Motorco space (show that the) Motorco space is supposed to stay pretty much as it is, but I don’t know how disruptive it will be when they start developing,” he said. “I would like to think we do (have a future there) with all the time and effort (we’ve put into it),” he added. “I assume we will, but like I said, we’re in lease negotiations.”