Editorial: New tower plan beats unused lot and empty buildings

Mar. 26, 2013 @ 08:21 PM

It seems, at first sight, like overkill.

The new 26-story tower proposed for downtown Durham would be eight floors taller than the current tallest nearby building, Durham Centre, home of the local Chamber of Commerce.

It would absolutely change the downtown skyline and cast a looming shadow over Parrish, Main and Corcoran streets.

But maybe that’s not such a bad thing.

Yes, the project calls for demolition of several empty buildings on Main and Parrish, but most of the structures don’t hold much nostalgic value for the community. We don’t deny their historic value, but their decrepit condition makes the buildings unlikely for restoration.

The development plan, as reported by The Herald-Sun’s Laura Oleniacz, would incorporate five preserved building facades. If approved, construction on the estimated $40 million project would begin next year, with completion expected in 2016.

Although largely planned as an upscale residential apartment complex, the building also would house office space, rooftop gardens, a health club and a meeting space for the Parrish Street Forum.

Duke University seems to be adding to its occupation of downtown by signing a letter of intent to lease 50,000 square feet of the building.

That Duke connection should prove less surprising with a glance at the principals behind Aspen, Colo.-based Austin Lawrence Partners. Greg Hills, founder and president, is a Duke graduate who serves on the university’s task force for Entrepreneurial Studies. His wife, Jane, executive vice president, specializes in marketing and design. She is a member of Aspen’s Historic Preservation Commission and sits on Duke’s Athletics Leadership Board.

“We think what the city needs is residential in the core to help with those spending dollars – people coming and going, going to restaurants and shops,” Greg Hills said.

Aaron Averill, a property owner on Parrish Street, felt some concern about the looming tower, but expressed cautious optimism about how the building might help downtown.

“Essentially, it will be a new kind of feel,” he said.

The plan goes before the city’s Historic Preservation Commission on April 2.

We think the concept sounds intriguing, and certainly consider the proposal a much more appealing use for the land than a lot once ringed by a chain link fence.