Colorado firm wants to buy, renovate Jack Tar Motel

Feb. 10, 2014 @ 09:07 PM

A Colorado development firm behind several key downtown real estate development proposals now has the Jack Tar Motel on Corcoran Street under contract as well, according to the firm’s co-founder and president.

Austin Lawrence Partners wants to buy the motel to restore it and turn it into a “hip modern hotel” with lower room rates, said Greg Hills, the co-founder and managing partner of the Colorado-based firm. Hills said the firm also wants to restore the building’s interior parking deck.
The firm is also behind the proposal to build a 26-story tower with apartments, office space, and ground-floor shops and restaurants on vacant land downtown at the corner of Corcoran, Main and Parrish streets.
The company bought the land through a shell corporation in November 2012 along with several neighboring vacant buildings on Main and Parrish Streets. The firm plans to weave the facades of the neighboring vacant buildings into the new construction.
In addition, Austin Lawrence was also behind the purchase of the 1970s-era building on Main Street downtown known as the SouthBank building. The company plans to demolish the building to develop something else there.
At the corner of Corcoran and Parrish street downtown, the Jack Tar Motel is across from CCB Plaza and adjacent to the vacant lot where Austin Lawrence wants to build its tower.
Previously, developer Roger Perry of the Chapel Hill firm East West Partners was exploring demolishing the motel and developing a mixed-use project with apartments, shops and office space on the property.
Perry said he was interested in redeveloping that property and some of the property between the motel and a city parking deck on Chapel Hill Street.
But while he said the motel is a “wonderful location in downtown,” the Chapel Hill developer never got very far with the proposal.
“We had conversations with the owners, and explored it for some period of time, and never really advanced the ball really far,” Perry said. “It was never under contract.”
Wendy Hillis, executive director of the historic building preservation advocacy group Preservation Durham, said the building is in the downtown historic district, and would be eligible for historic tax credits as a renovation. The motel is a “great example of mid-century architecture,” she said.
It was built as an addition to the Washington Duke Hotel, a now-demolished structure that stood where CCB Plaza is now, Hillis said, as part of an effort to modernize the hotel. She said there are a lot of people who care about the building, but there are others who “just don’t get” the mid-century modern architecture and think it should come down.
“Because it’s starting to have its heyday in preservation, a lot of people just don’t get it,” she said of mid-century modern architecture. “It’s the new frontier, and we definitely care about it.”
Hillis said that “every indication” that she has so far is that Austin Lawrence is interested in the site because of the parking opportunities it presents as a building that is half-parking garage, half motel. She said she hopes that the firm is able to accommodate its parking needs for its 26-story tower project through a renovation of the existing building and parking garage.
In a phone interview on Monday, Hills that although Austin Lawrence’s proposal for the 26-story tower does include some on-site parking, the firm also needed to be “pro-active about getting parking for our site” to accommodate all of the parking needs for the project. But while the motel’s parking structure “definitely has a significant interest for us,” he said they also want to renovate the motel part of the building.
“It’s all sort of strategically planned,” he said. “Our focus is really to get this tower going summer, late summer, early fall … that is the main focus. Obviously we needed the parking, so that became an important component to (the 26-story tower project) – getting that going.”
He said the firm is envisioning renovating the motel and re-opening it as a more affordable alternative to the boutique hotel projects proposed for downtown by other firms. Kentucky-based 21c Museum Hotels is working on redeveloping the former SunTrust tower on Corcoran Street into a boutique hotel, and another developer wants to turn the former Mutual Community Savings Bank building on East Chapel Hill Street into a boutique hotel as well.
“Those are going to be nicer, higher-end price point hotels,” Hills said. “We feel there’s a niche for the younger profile, artsy crowd that would love to be in downtown Durham that just can’t afford higher room rates.”
He added that the Jack Tar Motel building has some “neat amenities,” including ground-floor retail space, and a pool deck.
And while the hotel building “needs some TLC,” he said there’s nothing about the building’s condition “that scares us.” He said they’re looking to find a hotel operator, and have begun investigating tax credits for the project.