Developer’s plans for proposed 26-story downtown tower detailed

Mar. 26, 2013 @ 01:29 PM

A developer’s proposal for a 26-story tower with apartments, shops and office space on a vacant lot at the corner of Main, Parrish and Corcoran streets downtown is slated to go before the Historic Preservation Commission April 2.

The plans call for the demolition of several empty, existing buildings on Main and Parrish streets and the preservation of five façades. The facades would then be incorporated alongside new construction into the project, which is primarily planned to be an apartment building.

“We think what the city needs is residential in the core to help with those spending dollars -- people coming and going, going to restaurants and shops,” said Greg Hills, managing partner of Austin Lawrence Partners, the Aspen, Colo.-based development firm  behind the proposed project.

Construction is targeted to begin next year, Hills said, and completion is targeted for summer 2016. To move forward, the project needs a certificate of appropriateness from the Historic Preservation Commission, as well as approval of the project’s site plan.

The cost of construction is estimated at $40 million, Hills said. He said officials are in preliminary discussions with lenders, and they’ve also had preliminary talks with city leaders about possible incentives for the project.

The proposal submitted to the commission describes a project including amenities such as rooftop gardens, an outdoor sports court and indoor health club on the sixth floor, and a swimming pool and hot tub on the 26th.

The project would include office space on the fourth and fifth levels, and partially on the third floor. Duke University has signed a letter of intent to lease 50,000 square feet of office space in the project, Hills said.

Parking is proposed for two floors below-ground, as well as on the second story and partially on the third floor above retail space for shops or cafes on the first floor. The ground level would also have room for the Parrish Street Forum, a space paying tribute to the street’s history as a hub for African-American owned businesses.

The meeting space, which also includes some historical information about Black Wall Street, is now operating on Parrish Street in another property owned by the Durham firm Greenfire Development.

But Chuck Watts, chairman of the Parrish Street Advocacy Group, said that location was meant to be temporary. Watts said in an email that Parrish Street advocates are hopeful something closer to their original vision for the forum would be a reality in the Colorado-based company’s development proposal.

“Our experience with the forum has been that the arrangements for leasing have not been attractive for it to truly function as a common room,” said Watts, an attorney whose firm is also representing Austin Lawrence Partners on some legal matters, in an email about the forum’s existing location. “It is also limited to 35 people because of the limited bathroom and other facilities that have been provided.”

Austin Lawrence’s plans for the tower are similar to what was proposed at one time by Greenfire for the same site. Greenfire sold the property to Austin Lawrence last year.

Hills said that while Greenfire also proposed to combine renovation of street-level facades of existing buildings with new construction, he said the Colorado firm’s project is primarily residential, while Greenfire’s was proposed to be mainly for office space. Attempts to reach a Greenfire official on Monday were not successful.

“We think there’s a niche that’s actually not being met – we think it’s more upscale, urban apartments,” Hills said of the residential use. “Most of the rental product that’s being built in the area is catering more toward students and grad students. We think there’s a group of people that would really more like the urban experience.”

Aaron Averill, a property owner on Parrish Street, said he expects that the proposed 26-story project would help enliven downtown. However, he said he was concerned about the potential for a “looming shadow” caused by the height of the tower.

 “Essentially it will be kind of a new feel,” said Averill, who bought a building at 106 W. Parrish St. with his wife in 2011. He said they found a graphic design firm to rent the second floor of their renovated building, and are seeing interest from potential retail operators for the first floor. The couple lives on the third floor.

Parrish Street is still fairly quiet, he said, but he believes it’s on the upswing. He added that he believes the vacant building facades planned to be incorporated into the Austin Lawrence proposal don’t appear to be able to be preserved. The impact of having vacant buildings on the street has been negative, he said.

“But I think our (building) was vacant, and I think once you reach a critical mass, it starts tipping pretty quickly, and I think that’s where it’s at,” he said.

Stephen Peters owns the furniture restoration company Peters Design Works at 107 W. Parrish St.  He said he believes the empty buildings on the end of Parrish have been impediments to Durham’s growth

“There are many things that are impediments to growth and development,” he said. “The fact that the buildings were empty and looked bad were a significant part of that problem.”

Peters said he supports preservation of the facades of those buildings, and added that he expects the 26-story project will continue to help downtown’s growth, and would bring more business for his shop.