Plans for three Central Park sites to become residential housing

Jun. 08, 2014 @ 05:03 PM

Two properties in downtown’s Durham Central Park district have sold to new owners who envision developing residential units on the sites.

At the end of May, a company connected to Durham’s Greenfire Development sold a property at 619-621 Foster St. for $1.2 million to Somerset Partners of North Carolina.
Somerset paid another $1.15 million for a parking lot at 614 Rigsbee Ave., which is across from the Liberty Warehouse tobacco warehouse buildings.
Somerset is led by Alston Gardner, a member of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Board of Trustees and a founder and a partner at an Atlanta-based private equity firm.  He’s working with his sister, Lucy Stokes, a general contractor.
“We plan to redevelop Foster Street and Rigsbee, but it will take awhile as we have tenants with leases for both properties,” Gardner said in an email. “We are excited about the further development of Central Park district and will be talking to many of the stakeholders to find the highest and best use for both parcels.”
The Foster Street property is home to existing businesses including the energy efficiency company Green Horizon and Nomadic Traders.
The Rigsbee Avenue property is used by The Pit restaurant for valet parking,Gardner said. The Durham company Organic Transit also stores inventory in garages on the site.
In the long-term, however, he said they’re looking to redevelop the sites.
For the property on Rigsbee Avenue, Gardner said they’re mostly likely looking to build multi-family apartments.
The property’s former owners also had planned to redevelop the property, but didn’t get to it since their development focus was on Durham’s City Center. It was owned by a company managed by Durham architect John Warasila and others.
“It’s a great site, and we trust a terrific project will get done there,” Warasila said in an email.
For the Foster Street property, Gardner said they’ve discussed developing a mixed-use project there with residential housing above street-level retail shops, but they’re considering other ideas.
Gardner said they’re considering “all of the options” when asked whether they’re looking to demolish or renovate the building.
“The building is not historic and is probably not salvageable, but we are still looking at it,” he said.
The Central Park District has become a target for new development. It’s already a hot spot of activity for restaurants, bars and other businesses.
The area is home to Fullsteam Brewery, The Pit, Motorco Music Hall, Cocoa Cinnamon coffee shop, and the bar and restaurant Geer Street Garden.
On the site of the Liberty Warehouse property where two former tobacco auction warehouse still stand, a Chapel Hill firm is planning to build new apartments, while incorporating some aspects of the historic structure into the design.
Warasila said it’s “a great neighborhood” and the key to developing it further will be parking and infrastructure.