Changes coming to Central Park area

Apr. 19, 2014 @ 08:30 PM

The redevelopment of Liberty Warehouse into apartments with ground-floor shops may be just the beginning of new development in the Durham Central Park area.

Potential developers are looking into buying other properties and buildings in the area, and additional business owners also are looking to set up shop in the lively district.
The area around Foster Street, Geer Street and Rigsbee Avenue is already home to the Durham Farmers’ Market at the Durham Central Park Pavilion, Fullsteam Brewery, Motorco Music Hall, Cocoa Cinnamon, King’s Sandwich Shop, the restaurant and bar Geer Street Garden, and multiple bars.
To add to the mix, the owners of The Blue Note Grill, a barbecue and rib restaurant that has live blues, bluegrass, rockabilly and other music each night on Durham-Chapel Hill Boulevard, has signed a lease to relocate to two bays of a building on Washington Street near the Durham Athletic Park.
Blue Note owners Bill and Andrea Whittington are planning to redevelop 709 and 711 Washington St. into a restaurant and live-music venue with a quick-service eating area, a dining area with a stage, and an outdoor patio with views of the old ballpark.
Also in the mix is Tyler Huntington, the founder of Tyler’s Restaurant & Taproom. He’s planning to open a distillery and event space in a former tobacco auction warehouse at 609 Foster St. Interior demolition is already underway, he said, and construction is expected to begin in earnest within weeks. He hopes to have the business open in the fall.
And there’s more. The owner of the Motorco property at 723 Rigsbee Ave., New York-based urban designer Alex Washburn, said that while he hasn’t solidified his plans, he is gearing up to redevelop the property. He said that means he’s starting to do architectural studies and to look into urban design issues for the project.
“For me this is something of a chance to understand how a neighborhood could grow and not just maintain its character, but get even better,” Washburn said. “What I’m hoping is that the place stays vital and creative in way that is unique. It’s not just unique for Durham; it’s unique for the country and frankly for a lot of the cities around the world that I’ve seen. This is something special. Hopefully there will be a mix of exiting and new.”
In addition to the possible redevelopment of that site, Denny Clark, the owner of property between Durham Central Park and Corporation Street, said a developer has an option on three pieces of land that includes vacant tracts and property with a building at 539 Foster St. In an email, Clark declined to say what the potential buyer is planning.
Also, at the back door to Durham Central Park, a potential condo developer has an option on property at 400 E. Hunt St., according to Hank Scherich, the president of the Durham-based educational assessment firm Measurement Inc., whose real estate arm owns the property.
Scherich said he thinks it may be time for condos to be built in downtown Durham. There are apartments under construction downtown and elsewhere in the city, but there’s been “virtually no condos built” in Durham in recent years, he said.
“We’ve been encouraging development on this side of town,” he added. “I think this area in the long run has the potential for being the next American Tobacco kind of development in Durham.”
And finally, a building at 619 Foster St. is under contract to sell to a partnership that includes Alston Gardner, a member of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Board of Trustees and a founder and a partner at an Atlanta-based private equity firm. He’s working in partnership with his sister, Lucy Stokes. The building houses existing businesses including the energy efficiency company Green Horizon.
They could close on the property as early as May, Gardner said, but don’t plan to launch any redevelopment in the short term. They’re planning to redevelop the site eventually, and have considered renovating of the building as it is, as well as building a new mixed-use, retail or residential project.
Gardner said he believes there is more demand for residential development in that area, but also cautioned that “nobody’s going to do much” there without more parking.
“Parking is a real premium there,” he said. “That changes the economics of any project you do. The city’s going to probably have to pony up and have to help with some kind of parking structure in that area.”
Larry Tilley is the owner of Acme Plumbing & Heating Co., a business that’s been on Foster Street since 1984, when Tilley said property was cheap there.
“Now a plumbing business is in the hippest part of Durham,” Tilley said. “There’s pressure to develop or to sell. I assume that we’ll do that sometime in the not-too-distant future, but I don’t have any kind of deal at this point in time.”
Tilley said he’s positive about development in the area as long as it maintains what “makes it cool” with businesses like Geer Street Garden, Motorco, and Fullsteam.
“If we were to come in here and knock everything down and put in a Disneyland kind of place – I don’t think that’s what Durham wants,” he said. “We just need to keep it funky; keep it dirty,” he said.