Preservation panel OKs hotel project

Jan. 09, 2013 @ 06:10 PM

Plans to convert downtown’s former Mutual Community Savings Bank into a boutique hotel cleared another hurdle this week, receiving an OK from Durham’s Historic Preservation Commission.

The panel granted the project a “certificate of appropriateness” that green-lighted changes developers want to make to the outside of the 1968-vintage building.

It attached a couple of conditions to the approval, but those amounted to “nothing major,” said Lisa Miller, senior planner in the City/County Planning Department.

The commission’s review came about three months after city and county officials pledged a $1.2 million business-incentive package to would-be developer Gentian Group LLC, payable on the opening of a 54-room hotel.

Backers of the project say it will cost about $11 million and help address a shortage of downtown hotel space that’s kept business away from the nearby Durham Convention Center.

The project is still a couple steps short of completing the regulatory process. Administrators have to approve a site plan, and it’s likely the City Council will have to rule on a move to privatize part of an adjoining alley that’s now a public right of way.

Developers needed a signoff from the Historic Preservation Commission because the former Mutual building, at 315 E. Chapel Hill St., is in Durham’s downtown historic district.

The plan calls for changes to the glass curtain wall on the west side of the building, its historical and future main entrance. It also requires alterations to the pedestrian mall that fronts that side of the structure, to make room for among other things a dining terrace and an accessibility ramp for the disabled.

Designers want to enlarge windows on the east site of the building, add windows to the north side, and install a couple of guest rooms and a bar on its roof. The plan envisions no real changes to the south side of the building, the side that faces Chapel Hill Street.

Commission members wanted a couple of changes to the plans for the entrance mall, and asked developers to get an OK from city/county planners when they have a better idea of what materials will go into the additions on the roof.

There was “some question about how visible” the changes on the roof will be to passers-by, hence the panel’s caution on that issue, Miller said.

The building for now is essentially unchanged from its as-completed-in-1968 appearance. What blogger and preservationist Gary Kueber has called its “irrepressibly geeky” look comes in part from a tall, oval stair tower that dominates the southwest corner of the building.