Durham council agrees to tower, Jack Tar talks

Mar. 17, 2014 @ 10:20 PM

City Council members voted Monday to join the county in negotiating a business-incentive deal with the developer who wants to renovate downtown’s former Jack Tar Motel and build a new skyscraper across the street.

Each government has signaled it’s willing to put nearly $4 million into a deal with Austin Lawrence Partners.

The combined $8 million, paid out over 15 years, would net the developer about $6 million in present-day dollars, once the likely effect of inflation is taken into account, officials say.

Austin Lawrence intends to build a 26-story tower at the corner of West Parrish and North Corcoran streets, across Corcoran from CCB Plaza on what was once the site of Durham’s Woolworth’s store.

It appears likely to include 100,000 square feet of office space “as well as over 100 units of apartments,” said Kevin Dick, director of the Office of Economic and Workforce Development.

He added that operations associated with Duke University likely will become a key tenant of the office space.

The tower project has been in the works for a while, gaining a Historic Preservation Commission approval vote last spring.

The Jack Tar link emerged only recently, the developers taking an interest in the Corcoran Street property because it includes a 250-space parking deck. The spaces will come in handy as they try to meet the parking needs of the tower’s potential tenants.

Unlike other developers who eyed the Jack Tar property in recent years, Austin Lawrence is willing to renovate the early 1960s vintage structure rather than demolishing it.

Company officials have signaled that they want to fit out the Jack Tar with 74 guest rooms, a rooftop lounge and 14,000 square feet of retail space.

Like the county, the city’s incentives would amount to a give-back of the portion of the tax revenues officials expect the project to generate.

To protect their revenue stream, the city in negotiations will insist that Austin Lawrence give up its right have the Jack Tar listed as a local historic landmark. Such a designation, were it granted, would halve its property tax bill for the hotel.

Officials also will ask the company to work with Dick’s department to see that Durham residents have a crack at construction and other jobs associated linked to the project.

“This is a large project, an opportunity for a lot of jobs, an opportunity for a lot of minority participation,” Mayor Bill Bell said, telling Dick and other administrators to ask for firm hiring goals.

“We hope and expect they will be ambitious for the hiring of minority employees,” added Councilman Steve Schewel.

Dick indicated that the negotiations could produce an incentive contract fairly quickly, perhaps even for council review next month.