Duke buys last of West Village buildings

Jan. 02, 2013 @ 08:39 AM

A downtown building has been sold that was one of the last properties still under the control of the original developers of West Village.

West Village is a group of former tobacco buildings downtown that was converted into apartments and space for restaurants, shops and offices.

The Powerhouse building at 300 Fuller St. that was part of the development has been sold for $2.275 million to Durham Realty, which is a support corporation for Duke University, according to property records.

The building was once used as a power plant for the Liggett Group campus in Durham, according to multiple sources.

 “We don’t have immediate plans for the building, but eventually we’ll fill it up with Duke users,” Scott Selig, Duke University’s associate vice president of capital assets and real estate, said in a phone interview Monday.

Originally, the sale was expected to close in January 2012, according to a court document filed with Durham County Civil Superior Court.

The document was a motion to approve the building’s sale filed Oct. 9 by Tom Niemann, a Durham developer who was part of the original West Village development team.

The document states the sale closing was delayed because of legal disputes involving creditors – including banks, professional athletes and others – who had judgments, charging orders and liens against Christian Laettner and Brian Davis.

Laettner and Davis are former Duke University basketball players who were also a part of the original development partnership. According to previous reports in The Herald-Sun, the partnership between Laettner, Davis and Niemann broke up in 2006, but Laettner and Davis later formed a new partnership.

“I’m very pleased with the successful sale of the [Powerhouse],” Laettner said in an emailed statement Monday. “This is the last piece in the overall restructuring of West Village, and allows me to continue my commitment to those that have invested with me.”

In addition to disputes involving creditors, Niemann was also involved in legal dispute over how sale proceeds would be split.

In a court document filed in the courthouse Sept. 17, Niemann petitioned the court to appoint a receiver to take control of several companies managed by members of the original West Village development team, and of their assets.

He also asked the court to order Davis and Laettner to “cease and desist any attempt or action to sell or dispose of assets” of the companies.

However, at a subsequent court hearing, an attorney representing Niemann said he was not requesting that a receivership be set up, or that the sale be “held up or prohibited.”

A consent order filed in Durham County Superior Court Nov. 26 said that managers and partners connected with the power house at 300 Fuller St., including Niemann, had authorized the sale of the property.

The consent order also said that an agreement was reached concerning the closing and distribution of the sale proceeds by the members and managers of National Champion Real Estate, a company that owns or operates the Powerhouse property.

In addition, according to property records, a piece of West Village property referred to as the “grassy knoll” was transferred to Niemann.

The majority of the West Village development of converted former Liggett Group tobacco buildings is controlled by a Maryland-based real estate investment firm.

Federal Capital Partners, based in Chevy Chase, Md., made a $5 million investment in the second phase of West Village that allowed the company to take decision-making control of that part of the development, according to a previous interview with a company official. The second phase includes loft apartments as well as office and retail space off West Main Street.

In addition, Federal Capital Partners bought buildings in the first phase of the development for $35.25 million. That purchase included loft apartments as well as retail space in former tobacco buildings off Duke Street.

Selig said he doesn’t know which Duke University office will be located in the Powerhouse building.

Part of that building is already office space, and another small portion still needs to be redeveloped, he said.

 “It’s not clear exactly how we’ll do the redevelopment,” he said.

University officials were interested in the building because it’s close to the location of other Duke offices downtown, and it’s a “good building, right in downtown where there’s been an expansion.”

 “We have interest in buildings all over downtown Durham,” Selig said.

The university has about 770,000 square feet of leased space downtown, Selig said. That’s compared to about 70,000 square feet of leased space that the university had in 2004, he said.

Selig said the growth of the university’s presence downtown is due to the school’s overall expansion, and also to a strategic decision to aid in the downtown’s revival.

Attempts to reach Niemann for comment were unsuccessful Monday.