Welcome progress on downtown hotel project

Feb. 23, 2013 @ 02:47 PM

Penguins are marching toward the Bull City.

On Friday, 21c Museum Hotels officially bought the historic Hill Building – a.k.a. SunTrust Tower – from the Greenfire development group.

Although Greenfire remains a minority partner in the project going forward, the Kentucky-based 21c, with its signature penguin icons, now leads the effort to repurpose one of Durham’s skyline dominators into a combination hotel and art gallery.

Greenfire bought the building at 111 N. Corcoran St. from SunTrust in 2006 for $4.09 million and won incentives from both the city and county to develop a hotel project – just in time for a global economic downturn.

Now, in a better climate for development, 21c has taken over the building for $5.25 million.

In an article this week by the Herald-Sun’s Laura Oleniacz, Greenfire managing partner Paul Smith explained that proceeds from the sale paid off building debts and gave 21c a clean title.

“Friday was a significant and exciting day for downtown, and the future of the Hill Building,” Smith said.

Downtown Durham Inc. credited Greenfire and its leadership with wisely changing course in the face of a struggling economy.

“They got caught up in the hard times of the economy, almost a depression on the commercial development side, and they made, I think, a very wise decision to go out and seek partners who could actually develop what their original vision was back a number of years ago,” said Bill Kalkhof, president of Downtown Durham Inc.

We find it difficult to disagree, given that 21c already has enjoyed some success in establishing boutique hotels in Louisville, Cincinnati and Bentonville, Ark.

The terms of receiving $7.7 million in incentives from local governments stipulate that construction must start no later than this July and must finish no later than July 2015.

We look forward to the ongoing evolution of this project as Durham continues the revitalization of its urban center.

We have to wonder, though: if Louisville’s hotel features red penguins, yellow penguins adorn Cincinnati and green penguins are in Bentonville, what hue of flightless fowl should we expect in Durham? Duke blue?