Past year’s downtown growth seems promising to developers

Nov. 13, 2013 @ 07:08 PM

When Greg Hills came back to Durham a few years ago, exciting redevelopment projects and new retail businesses were sprouting up among the tired, empty and boarded-up buildings.

 “Once you go around and see what happened at American Tobacco, which is quite amazing, West Village, Central Park, and then you come back to the core, and see the investment that is being made with storefronts at Rogers Alley, Beyu Caffe, (you) start to see this place is changing,” the Duke University alumnus said Wednesday, speaking at the annual meeting of the downtown-focused economic development group Downtown Durham Inc.

The group reviewed the development and business changes that have taken place in the last year, and also introduced the group’s new executive director, Geoff Durham. Durham took over the role from longtime leader Bill Kalkhof, who retired.

“There’s going to be some changes in downtown,” said Matthew Coppedge, Downtown Durham Inc.’s chief operating officer. In the past year, he said, 17 new retail businesses have opened downtown, and more are coming. He also said that apartment complexes under construction and planned new hotels will help bring more foot traffic.

The meeting also included a talk by developers involved in proposed new downtown development projects.

Hills is founder and president of Colorado-based Austin Lawrence Partners, which has proposed the construction of a new tower downtown on a vacant, half-acre lot.

The lot, at the intersection of Parrish, Corcoran and Main streets, once housed a building with a F.W. Woolworth Co. store.

With the new tower project, Hills said, the firm hopes to bring 400 workers downtown and about 250 residents. The firm is working on financing for the project, he said.

“We want to provide the sort of a housing option that we feel doesn’t exist in the Durham area in terms of more upscale urban residential,” he said.

The panel also included Craig Greenberg, the president of 21c Museum Hotels. The Kentucky-based company has proposed redeveloping the downtown SunTrust tower on Corcoran Street into a boutique hotel with a restaurant and contemporary art museum.

The company opened its first hotel in 2006. The Durham hotel will be the company’s fourth.

Currently, he said, interior demolition and environmental abatement work are under way inside the building. The SunTrust sign will come off of the tower in the next 60 to 90 days, he said, and the branch inside is moving to another downtown location.

“(Leaders have spent) many years building up this great downtown revitalization,” Greenberg said. “It’s already happening. (I) hope our project can just be another piece of that puzzle.”