DCM changes name… to DCM

I noticed that DCM has  gone through a bit of rebranding to reflect their non-central-park-adjacent location:

As many of you know, this co-op market was originally named with a location in the Durham Central Park district in mind. As we move into our actual location, on West Chapel Hill Street, conveniently located near to downtown, both Duke campuses, and many residential neighborhoods, we have changed the name of the market to avoid confusion, and to emphasize our cooperative structure. From now on, Durham Central Market will be known as Durham Co-op Market.

So, yeah, from now on you can just call it… DCM. I see what you did there, guys.

In addition to a new name, they’ve got a new (very slow at the time of this writing) web site at durham.coop. The grocer is currently planning to open “just after the new year” and looks to hire 20-30 employees prior to opening.

Wow, there sure is a lot of construction happening downtown

As I often do, I went for a bike ride during my lunch break today. I figured I’d tour some of the construction sites I’ve mentioned and see what they actually look like.

First up is the iconic Hill Building (AKA the Sun Trust Building), which is busy becoming a boutique hotel and is on track for a 2015 completion date.

In the second shot you can see the edge of the Jack Tar, and the new (residential) skyscraper will be directly to the left of the Hill Building in that shot. No work has begun on either of those projects yet (estimated start date is in June).

Here’s the Kent Corner mixed use development, at the intersection of West Chapel Hill and Kent. I think this will be DCM‘s building, but I’m not positive. They’re hopeful for completion in early 2015.

Here’s the site of Capital Broadcasting Corporation’s new hotel going in next to the DPAC.

This is Phase III of West Village; new construction of apartments over formerly a surface parking lot. The structure includes a parking deck which will replace (and expand upon) the number of spaces which had been there previously. The rest of West Village is comprised mostly of renovated historic structures, so this is a bit of a departure; I’ll be interested to see how it integrates with the existing project.

Here’s the development at 501 Willard, which is owned by the same firm that owns North Point Center (home of Costco, Kroger, Home Depot, et al). They’re calling it “Whetstone Apartments“:

This is “605 West,” an apartment complex which is aimed at students. These apartments have replaced Ronnie Sturdivant’s dilapidated Urban Merchant Center on West Chapel Hill St. next to the DPDHQ and are on track for completion this year (in fact, their reps were out advertising at Brightleaf Square when we ate there a few days ago):


Visited, but not pictured: the future hotel on Holland Street which seems to be named the virtually ungoogleable “Hotel Durham.”

You may notice a theme here: lots and lots of condos and apartments. Like, a borderline troubling number of condos and apartments. The three hotels are probably good news (people have historically decried the lack of hotels near downtown, well now they can surely shut up about *that*) but I’m less convinced that all this building up is going to work out for everybody. Consider that construction is going to begin soon on the Liberty Warehouse condos as well, and you’re going to have a flood of units entering the market in 2014-2015.

As a homeowner, I’m watching with more than a little concern here. The markets for single family dwellings and condos are usually distinct, but if the pendulum swings too far and tons of condos are sitting vacant at bargain prices downtown, you can believe the single family market is going to feel the pinch too.

Can we support this growth? I’m not sure. Maybe. But in a best-case scenario where all these rooms are utilized, we’re going to be facing a ton of new challenges related to their success, especially with respect to parking and traffic.

McPherson Hospital project begins anew after years of demolition by neglect

You may remember that the city gave the green light to incentives for an extended stay hotel on the site of the McPherson Hospital last fall. The site, at the corner of Buchanan and Main, has had a troubled history; demolition of the additions to the hospital originally began in 2008, with plans to re-use parts of the original historic structure in the new hotel.

Things didn’t go so well, though, what with the economy and all that. So the hospital was left exposed to the elements ever since construction stopped in 2009:

As demolition work has restarted on the project (exactly when I’m uncertain, but it’s within the past month or so), it’s obvious how little of the structure they intend to re-use. It seems likely that most of it was already rendered unusable due to being exposed to the elements for so long, and they’ve started pulling out the wood and glass. Here’s what the shell looked like this morning (pardon the cell phone snaps):



In one of those images, you can see a poster with the rendering of the new hotel. What is retained of the facade will sit roughly in the center of the building, surrounded by the new brick structure.

What’s the deal with light rail?

You might have noticed some headlines about the recent federal approval of the Orange/Durham light rail corridor. Notably absent in the discussion has been Wake County – our neighbors to the east are a bit cool on the idea.

There’s good reason for their skepticism; this isn’t the first time people have talked about bringing light rail to the area. There are numerous hurdles to overcome, but mostly it boils down to a simple, irrefutable fact: the region doesn’t have the potential ridership to financially support light rail without massive subsidies by non-riders. Given the sprawl-y nature of the Raleigh / Durham / Chapel Hill metro area, light rail is going to be of limited utility and limited use – at least at first.

One of the goals of the TTA is to at least link up NCCU, Duke, and UNC. This is a logical start, certainly. Check this map (PDF) or watch the fly-through:

But unless you’re going between those few locations, it seems unlikely that rail transit alone will serve your needs. There’s not much residential density along that corridor, and for rail to be a viable option for commuters people will need ways to get to the train stations, which adds time and complexity (possibly a lot of it, if you’re stuck using buses).

So, you have all these caveats, but it seems like this might be the time that things start to actually move forward.

Or will it?

There’s the big, unanswered question of money. Although Durham and Orange counties have voted for a half cent sales tax hike to contribute to the project, footing the massive $1.3B estimated bill will require both federal and state funding as well, neither of which has been approved (and, given the situation in NC, state-level funding for this kind of infrastructure seems exceedingly unlikely).

In a world where the funding does materialize… what next? Well, you’ve got five years of planning, which in turn is followed by five years of construction. Completion would, optimistically, be pegged at a decade away.

So, what’s the bottom line? I think it’s the right time to have the conversation, because it seems like greater density is in our future, and it’s good that people are considering options, but… don’t get your hopes up. This project isn’t going to happen overnight, and right now it lacks the capital (political and actual) to even get off the ground.

One final note: light rail works best if you have good pedestrian and bike infrastructure to support it, so people can get to/from stations on their own without vehicles. If we’re planning for a future with light rail, one thing we can do right now is to work on improving the environment for cyclists and pedestrians.

The Jack Tar Motel renovation plans move forward

As briefly mentioned in the last DNO&E, the Jack Tar Motel is drawing some new attention from investors. The county has just approved talks related to some incentives for the project:

Colorado-based Austin Lawrence Partners has the Jack Tar property under contract. Greg Hills, the founder and president of Austin Lawrence, which specializes in historic preservation and typically looks for projects in areas in need of revitalization, is a Duke graduate.

Austin Lawrence is seeking $6 million in present-day dollars in incentives from the city and county for renovating the motel, including its interior 250-space parking deck, and the city has asked the county for a 50-50 split.

This building was part of the Ronnie Sturdivant dilapidated motel collection, and may be best known for proudly displayed the perplexing signage “WE WANT OPRAH” in its third story windows. The Motel, like other Sturdivant properties, was left in limbo following his death a few years back. It seems Mr. Sturdivant owed some debts to various governments, and just how to pay them off was a difficult question.

Sturdivant was many things, but “a good taxpayer” was apparently not among them.

What’s especially surprising (and exciting) to me is that Austin Lawrence Partners plan to renovate the existing structure, which was built in the 60’s. Buildings from that era aren’t especially well represented in downtown, but they’re a big part of its character, and I’d mostly expected this building to be demolished to make way for new construction. Consider that another 60’s era Sturdivant property, the dilapidated Holiday Inn / school bus graveyard /Urban Merchant Center on West Chapel Hill St., was razed last year to make way for some (now nearly complete) student apartments.

If Austin Lawrence sounds familiar to you, it’s for good reason; they already owned the vacant lot across the street, and have been planning a 26 story skyscraper there.

Liberty Warehouse marches towards its doom as “cool” new site plans are revealed

Having been allowed to decay for years under Greenfire’s watch, Liberty Warehouse (Durham’s last extant tobacco auction house) now has an execution date: Spring 2014.

The Warehouse’s trajectory was fixed when its roof collapsed in 2011, and Greenfire has been looking for a way out ever since. That way out (as mentioned previously) was in revoking the structure’s landmark status, then selling the property to a development firm named East West Partners.

East West Partners never gave any reason to hope that they would retain much of the structure, and there’s now official confirmation that the building will be almost completely destroyed (save re-use of some cosmetic elements) in the site plan (PDF) which was presented at a meeting organized by Preservation Durham. The non-profit had been one of the last holdouts in efforts to avoid demolition, but they gave up their fight last year as it became clear that there was no way to save the structure.

There’s something you should know, though: this new building is going to be cool. Here are some quotes from the developers care of thedurhamnews.com:

Retail space will be “really unique and cool,” he said.

“It’ll have a very warehouse-y look. It’ll have concrete floors, there’ll be exposed ceilings, a lot of the really unique, cool signage will be reused. … some really interesting spaces that we think are very characteristic of what is in Central Park.”

“We want to create really unique and cool public memorial to not only the building but to the tobacco auction business in Durham,” he said. “It’s something that’s missing.”

Well hell, are you telling me this thing is going to be… cool? I’m not going to tell you how to do your jobs, but here are some synonyms to try:

  • sweet
  • rad
  • killer
  • hip
  • bitchin’
  • bodacious
  • awesome
  • bootilicious
  • bangin’

There are some more details courtesy of The Indy Week:

The upscale Triangle developers behind the Woodcroft subdivision in South Durham and what they call the “urban village” of East 54 in Chapel Hill say the new Liberty will include 246 one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments, 24,000 square feet of retail space and a 391-space parking deck at its center. At its tallest, the building will stand five stories, with multiple courtyards.

My own feelings on this one are… complex.

It just plain sucks that the warehouse is being razed, but let’s face it, that ship sailed years ago when Greenfire let it fall apart. It’s great that the development is going to be mixed use, because the street level there really does beg for some retail to flesh out the corridor between downtown and Old North Durham, and there’s going to be more demand for apartments near downtown as the area continues to boom.

But…

Guys, could you sound any more like corporate shills trying to piggyback off of a scene that developed organically? The small businesses that made Foster/Geer into what it is today braved some seriously sketchy times, and they turned a deserted ghetto into a seriously cool place to be, keeping all of those legit weird old buildings alive while doing so. And now you’re going to swoop in and put up some Tobacco Warehouse Wonderland theme park crap.

On paper it sounds like it has all the corporate lameness of the ATC, without any of the actual historic stuff that makes the ATC interesting and fun.

Well, c’est la vie. This is probably the best we could really hope for on such prime real estate, and an upscale mixed use development will beat a disintegrating historic warehouse.

I guess.

Hotel Durham (AKA Holland Hotel) developers present alternate plan for Holland St. alley

As previously discussed, the developers of 315 E. Chapel Hill St. had initially submitted a proposal which would have allowed them to take ownership of a chunk of the alley for use as an outdoor patio. Seven Stars (among others) raised concerns that this would would make the alley somewhat claustrophobic, and in so doing impede public use of the space (which has seen increasing use due to the popularity of neighboring businesses).

Those concerns caused the planning department to slam on the brakes, and they held a public meeting to solicit input from the public. The input was provided to the developers, who stated they would take it into account as they moved forward.

The Hotel has now revised (or at least clarified) its plans and intends to submit them to the council on the 18th:

The results are now in an agreement between the developers and the city that will probably come up for City Council approval Dec. 18. Most involve keeping the alley much as it is already, by preserving the trees already there, keeping the cobblestone pavement, keeping cars out and preserving public space there.

Gentian’s plan incorporates a public “pedestrian use area,” leaves the trees and most of the cobblestones, though it adds a five-foot wide public walkway paved with material easier on the feet than cobblestones. Any stones removed would be used as “design elements” in new construction. The company would also be responsible for maintaining the existing plantings, and may add lighting to the alley that designer Rob Emerson said is now “pitch dark” at night.

On first blush that sounds pretty swell! Caveat: I’ve not seen the actual plan, so I’m taking TheDurhamNews on its word here; I also don’t know whether these plans would be legally binding (in many cases, site plans can be changed at the discretion of the developer). Still, it’s always nice to see a developer listening to public feedback and working to come up with a compromise.