Duke grad buys another piece of downtown Durham

Maxwell Joseph founded the real estate investment group Hem + Spire in 2015, after graduating from Duke University.
Maxwell Joseph founded the real estate investment group Hem + Spire in 2015, after graduating from Duke University.

The aging BB&T bank building on the western edge of downtown Durham could soon see renovations and new tenants after a New York-based group recently bought the 45-year-old building.

Real estate investment group Hem + Spire purchased the five-story building from BB&T for $1.3 million, the group’s founder, Maxwell Joseph, said in an interview.

Founded in 2015 after Joseph graduated with a degree in visual studies from Duke University, the two-year-old Hem + Spire, which focuses on revitalizing historic properties, has steadily been building a portfolio of downtown Durham properties.

The BB&T building will be the group’s fourth property in or near downtown, where it also owns 211 Rigsbee Ave., the historic Snow Building at 331 W. Main St. as well as 433 W. Main St.

Hem + Spire is currently renovating the Snow Building, an art deco building built in 1933 that the firm purchased for nearly $3.6 million last year. The group is putting a new penthouse apartment on that building’s top floor.

BB&T is currently the only tenant at the 32,500-square-foot BB&T building, leasing around 10,000 square feet in the building, Joseph said.

Though it has sold the building, the bank will still remain a tenant in the building for the foreseeable future.

The remaining floors will likely be listed at Class B office space rents, which in downtown Durham go for $22 to $25 per square foot, Joseph said.

He added his firm will be doing renovations to the building’s brickwork and windows as well as adding more modern features to the interior.

Though Hem + Spire is not currently interested in redeveloping the entire site, Joseph said he wouldn’t rule out the possibility of transforming the building into something else down the line.

“It’s a great space,” Joseph said. “We are very confident in the future of Durham, and we are more than happy to invest in downtown.”

BBT Building
BB&T has sold its downtown building to a New York-based investment group for $1.3 million Google Street View

The western edge of downtown, where the BB&T building is located, has received a lot of interest from investors in recent time.

Capitol Broadcasting is currently in a long-term design process for the University Ford site on Willard Street that it purchased for nearly $30 million last year. A national apartment builder has proposed turning an derelict hotel on the same street into a 340-unit apartment complex.

Another investor is currently in the process of renovating the nearby N.C. Mutual building, and about a block away the Durham Police Department headquarters building will be redeveloped after the department moves to the other side of downtown next year.

The Capitol Broadcasting development, which is being billed as the final expansion of the American Tobacco district, was an attractive aspect of buying the BB&T building, Joseph said.

“That was of course a piece of our calculation in purchasing the building: the potential growth that Capitol Broadcasting will bring to that area,” he said. “I haven’t heard specifics … but any and all growth is welcome. We think, when it comes to downtown, a rising tide lifts all boats.”

Zachery Eanes: 919-419-6684, @zeanes