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.