Dual transformations downtown

Nov. 19, 2013 @ 04:50 PM

The opening of SunTrust’s new downtown branch  Monday had a wonderfully personal back story.

Bill Rogers, chairman, president and CEO of the regional bank, cut the ribbon in a building at 200 N. Mangum St. to which his family has deep roots – at the same time reanimating a long-dormant street-level storefront near Durham’s City Hall.

Rogers’ grandfather, Will Rogers, and great-uncle Ralph Rogers co-owned and operated a pharmacy that moved into the building at the corner of Mangum and Parrish streets one century ago.

The drug store remained in the Rogers family until 1962 and continued to operate until the early 1970s.

While Monday’s opening was reason for celebration – for the Rogers’ family story and the return of activity to a location in the midst of a growing number of new businesses along Parrish Street – it also was a reflection of the changes in downtown.

Shortly, the SunTrust sign will come down from the building just a couple of blocks away at Main and Corcoran streets – a building constructed in the style of the Empire State Building, in 1937 and long topped by a bank sign. For decades, the Hill Building was the iconic headquarters of Central Carolina Bank and Trust and its predecessors, a banking powerhouse founded by some of Durham’s leading businessmen.

The bank and its building both were dominant in Durham, both in its financial and business affairs and in its mostly low-slung skyline.  But those days are over. SunTrust, which acquired CCB in a merger in 2005, is based in Atlanta, although it continues to have a regional headquarters here much more modestly housed and announced in the Diamond View complex around the Durham Bulls Athletic Park.

But even as officials welcomed the branch at the old Rogers Drug building, workers were busily transforming the Hill Building into what will be a boutique hotel/art gallery. 

The renovation by Louisville, Ky.- based 21C will assure many more years – decades, we hope – of life for the bank’s former headquarters, another landmark of the adaptive re-use that downtown leaders and officials hailed just last week at the annual meeting of Downtown Durham Inc.

And the bank’s new, prominently placed branch in a drug store founded by the grandfather of the bank’s CEO will add to the street-level retail activity downtown so badly needs and that is emerging in so many varied forms these days. It may not be the “main meeting point,” as Ralph Rogers Jr., the founder’s son, put it Monday, in quite the way its predecessor was in its heyday. But it nonetheless will mean, as he said, “we’ll continue to have more people on the street.”

Both transformations are welcome chapters in the ongoing story of downtown’s renaissance.