New investors sought for Golden Belt

Dec. 31, 2013 @ 06:57 PM

Investors in Golden Belt, the former textile mill property on East Main Street downtown that’s been redeveloped into a mixed-use development of artist studios, loft apartments, office and retail space, are looking to sell ownership stakes in the project, according to the chief executive of the company that manages the property.

Gary Kueber, the CEO of Scientific Properties, which handles leasing and other management duties for Golden Belt, said property officials want to see whether other investors want to buy out existing ones.

“It’s an opportunistic exploration, I would say, of what the real state market would offer right now,” Kueber said.

Located at 807 E. Main St., the mixed-use complex was part of the facilities of the Golden Belt Manufacturing Co. textile company, which produced tobacco bags for the American Tobacco Co. at one time.

Kueber said he didn’t want to get into the financials of Golden Belt, but did say that the real estate market overall is improving, and the property is “doing very well.” In total, it’s about 93 percent leased.

“We’re doing fine, and…there’s nothing precipitating (this),” he said. “In other words, this isn’t a fire sale.”

Kueber said the intent is not necessarily for Scientific Properties to stop acting as the manager and of the property, but to see if others are interested in acquiring existing investors’ ownership stakes.

While Scientific Properties is the manager and developer of Golden Belt, the property is owned by a limited liability company called Edgemont Realty, according to property records. Andy Rothschild, the founder of Scientific Properties, is listed as the manager of Edgemont Realty in N.C. Secretary of State records.

Kueber confirmed that Rothschild was one of the investors in Golden Belt, but declined to give further information.

In general, Kueber said there is more interest nationally in real estate investment. Also, he said there’s been a lot of interest in Durham. He said it’s “fairly typical” in real estate development for a different group of investors to take on the longer-term management and ownership of a property, compared with its initial redevelopment. He said those are different types of risk with different time frames for payoff.

“It’s much like investing in different types of stocks or different types of funds where you may have some that are, kind of, less risky, and thus pay off over a longer period of time, and are more stable and more risky and pay off over a shorter period of time,” Kueber said. “It’s a very different thing when you’re looking at an abandoned old textile mill versus a property that’s over 90 percent leased and is producing rents. I would say it’s a normal part of the cycle of real estate investment for this shift from the kind of group that was interested in the shorter-term, higher risk, versus the groups that are interested in the longer-term, longer risk.”

Besides soliciting new investors for Golden Belt, Kueber said that another property at one time envisioned as a redevelopment opportunity for Scientific Properties - a former car dealership property on Jackie Robinson Drive - is on the market. The property previously housed the Elkins Chrysler-Mitsubishi dealership until 2006, when the dealership sold to David Johnson to become Johnson Chrysler.

The land now houses Thundershirt, the Durham-based company behind the dog anxiety wrapper treatment, and Triangle Ecycling, an electronics recycling company. Scientific Properties has a master lease on the property, according to property records.

“I think it is probably the best piece of re-developable land in downtown Durham,” Kueber said of the property, which is located near the Durham Bulls Athletic Park and Durham Performing Arts Center. “I think, again, it’s just to test the market and see what the interest level is.”

Kueber said both the sales of the former dealership property and the solicitation for new investors for Golden Belt have generated “a good amount of interest.”

Geoff Durham, president and CEO of the downtown-focused economic development group Downtown Durham Inc., said in an email that Scientific Properties’ redevelopment of Golden Belt already has had a “transformative” effect on the eastern part of downtown, as well as on the communities surrounding it.

“The property is a tremendous investment opportunity as downtown continues to emerge as an integrated and walkable activity center for businesses, visitors and residents alike,” Durham said.

Durham also confirmed that Scientific Properties does not outright own the former dealership property located near the ballpark, although it is the group that’s marketing it. He said the property is on the market and has been receiving a “great deal of interest” from both commercial and multi-family developers.  

“The Downtown Master Plan does contemplate the future redevelopment of the site as a high density, mixed-use project which has been reflected in current interest levels from the market,” Durham said.