This Durham landmark is changing, but its name won't be going away entirely

The N.C. Mutual Building will be seeing a lot of changes in coming months, as a developer plans to refurbish the building.
The N.C. Mutual Building will be seeing a lot of changes in coming months, as a developer plans to refurbish the building. The Herald-Sun

The landmark signs atop the NC Mutual building in downtown Durham will remain — two of them anyway — when the modernist tower gets a makeover this year.

The 14-story building on West Chapel Hill Street has long been the home of NC Mutual, the black-owned insurance company that built it in the 1960s. For decades, the company's name has been displayed on its four sides.

But NC Mutual, which sold the building in 2006 to an investment group, has shrunk its footprint there from six floors to one, opening up 60,000 square feet of office space and giving the new owners an opportunity to renovate the aging structure.

The building is being redeveloped by New South Ventures, a company led by Michael Lemanski, previously with Greenfire Real Estate Holdings, and a group of mainly local investors, Lemanski said last year. He bought the building for $10.5 million, while still with Greenfire Real Estate Holdings, according to property records.

Last year, the group said it would put $11 million of work into the building to attract new tenants and higher rents. The building is now called The Tower at Mutual Plaza in promotional materials.

Part of that renovation originally included stripping off the iconic NC Mutual signs, so that a new company could potentially buy the rights to advertise its name from the building’s crown.

But that plan has evidently changed. The NC Mutual moniker will remain on two sides of the four-sided building.

"The goal is to try to preserve the historic landmark, branding at the top of the building, but at the same time to provide opportunities to use the other sides for additional branding," said Carl Webb, an investor in the group.

A rendering of the on-going renovations coming to the NC Mutual tower. Courtesy of New South Ventures

Co-working space

That branding could be used to promote a 15,000-square-foot co-working space the company plans to add to the building, Webb added. The group is still in talks with who might operate the space (New South Ventures is also prepared to do so), and they hope to brand it around the word mutual.

"The co-working space we are really excited about," Webb said. "As much as this is a significant landmark, we want to make sure we project the future and the way millennials work today, like in American Underground and WeWork coming to One City Center."

Other changes coming to the building include restoring the facade, adding a mezzanine to expand the lobby by 13,000 square feet, and improving amenities such as a fitness center and a cafe. The group is also adding lights to make the building more prominent at night.

Webb said the group was proud to preserve a landmark of Durham’s history of black entrepreneurship.

"This is a building that we know has a lot of importance to the community and to Michael and myself," Webb said.

Avison Young, the brokerage representing the building, lists more than 57,000 square feet of office space available for rent with the going rate at $30 per square foot. The architecture firm Perkins+Will, which helped with the design of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., moved into the building last year.

GoTriangle, Duke University and the Department of Veterans Affairs also have space there.

The renovation of the lobby and the plaza is expected to be completed at the end of September and the co-working space could be ready by the end of the year.

Zachery Eanes: 919-419-6684, @zeanes