Liberty Warehouse sells to East West Partners

Apr. 14, 2014 @ 06:28 PM

The former tobacco auction warehouses on Rigsbee Avenue known as Liberty Warehouse sold Friday for $3.5 million to the Chapel Hill-based firm that plans to redevelop the property.

“It was a clean sale at $3.5 (million),” said Bryson Powell, a partner at Chapel Hill-based East West Partners, which plans to build apartments with ground-floor space for shops or restaurants on the site.

According to property records, a shell corporation connected to the Durham-based development company Greenfire Development had bought the former tobacco auction warehouses for the same price in 2006.

Greenfire’s Paul Smith said in an email that Greenfire officials believe the East West team will “do a fine job that will add to the Central Park neighborhood.”

Powell said the company is still working to finalize plans for the complex with Durham City-County Planning.

As part of the project, Powell said the company is looking to preserve the wall of the building that faces Durham Central Park and parts of the wall along Rigsbee Avenue. The parts of the Rigsbee wall that are preserved are proposed to be incorporated into an indoor-outdoor park area and memorial, he said.

The walls will have to be reinforced, Powell said, before the rest of the building is demolished. He said he expects the work to brace the wall on the park side to start in the next 45 days.

“That’s the first step of the demolition process – to brace that wall, and make it safe before we take the building down,” he said.

The building has been in the limelight since 2011, when a roof collapsed at the property during heavy rains and scattered building tenants.

After repairs were completed on one section of the building, the condemnation of that section of the building was lifted. The other part, at 611 Rigsbee, was found by the Durham City-County Planning Department to be in a state of "demolition by neglect," and the owner was given a deadline to make repairs.

But because Greenfire moved to have the building's local historic landmark status removed that put a stay on the demolition-by-neglect proceedings.

The Durham City Council approved the removal of the property’s local landmark status in a move that the historic building preservation group Preservation Durham did not oppose.

That was after preservation group officials reached agreement with East West Partners on certain terms for the redevelopment, and also facing what preservation officials expected to be unanimous support for the move from the council.

While the condition of the building’s roof impacted Preservation Durham’s plans to include a tour inside the building on its Home Tour 2014: Tobacco Heritage tour this year, Wendy Hillis, the group’s executive director, said on Monday that the building will actually be on the tour, but participants just won’t be able to go inside.

“They’ll be able to view inside form an open doorway,” Hillis said.