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 apartmentsĀ 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.

9 thoughts on “Wow, there sure is a lot of construction happening downtown”

  1. I’m most interested in the 605 West apartments. Where are these students now that are going to fill all those spaces? The Duke kids spend three years on campus, and presumably any that want to live off campus already can and do in the apartments around West Campus (Poplar West etc).

    1. 605 West is especially curious to me as well.

      Duke students might move there out of single family rentals – maybe. The cost of rentals convenient to campus has gone up to the point that perhaps something like this can win simply on price, and the modern amenities won’t be had in many of the historic single family dwellings that are near campus.

      You can see they’ve clearly gone all-in on the branding, even opting for the not-so-subtle Duke blue paint job. The kids selling it at Brightleaf were obviously chosen to appeal to college students based on their age.

      Although it’s not a bad location to get to campus, it’s not really ideal either, since no Duke bus routes go there (DATA does, though). It’s obviously more convenient to downtown and the ATC, both places that students might visit periodically but not their primary stalking grounds. You’d think young professionals would have found this location more compelling.

      It strikes me as a rather tone deaf endeavor based on how the chips seem to be falling in that area. But on the other hand, if they can’t find enough students, and assuming they didn’t cheap out on it terribly, they can probably rebrand and target a wider demographic if it fails.

      I do kind of hate the damn thing for including no retail on WCH street. That could’ve really helped this stretch of road immensely.

  2. First, lets distinguish “condos” from “apartments”. The rental market is hot right now, locally and nationwide. So all of these projects (except Liberty and the 26 story tower, who’s residential mix has not been defined yet – they’re probably smartly waiting to see how all the projects going up now fall out) are rentals not individual owners.

    Next, there are actually more graduate and professional students (8,105) at Duke than there are undergraduates (6,495). These are the real targets for 605 West (as well as the buildings on Erwin, Circle 9th St., the new building at the intersection of Anderson and W Main). Also, 605 West isn’t directly served by the Duke transportation system, unless you consider that Duke is footing half the bill for the free Bull City Connector which will take you from the bus station a block and a half away to the Duke Hospitals every 20-25 minutes. Similar market for the Whetstone project. There’s direct and free service to NCCU from the bus station, too, using the “NCCU Connection” that is part of DATA route 5.

    I would be more concerned about property values and rental prices If I were one of the many student-slumlords around Duke, not a single family property owner. These fools have been sitting on prime property but have unwilling (or perhaps unable) to invest in their facilities. They will now have to compete with all these new projects.

    1. It’s a good point about apartments versus condos. I’d been operating under the assumption that both Liberty and Corcoran were going to be condos, but I’m not sure why I had assumed that. Of course rental and owner markets don’t exist in vacuums, and if rental prices drop enough the market could soften across the board as potential buyers rent instead.

      Also, my own selfish concerns aside, a softening of the real estate market near downtown might not actually be bad for Durham. It would be nice for lower middle class people to be able to afford the area, rather than being pushed outward as prices continue to rise.

  3. Liberty’s site plan says it’ll be apartments: http://preservationdurham.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/Liberty-Warehouse-Presentation-011614.pdf

    At the public meeting about Austin Lawrence’s 26-story tower, Greg Hills (president) said that whether it would be rental or condo would depend on what prices they could get for the condos. If my memory serves, he said that if they could get >$350/sqft, they’d sell them as condos, otherwise they’d rent. That price was consistent with downtown Raleigh luxury condos.

    There’s a lot of money looking to get into real estate right now, and the prognosticators say that the place to put it is rentals and condos, as they forecast a systemic shift away from single family homes. Combine that with Durham’s frequent rating as a top commercial real estate market and we’re seeing this craziness. Many (though not all) of these developers have little investment in Durham, which is why you get tin-ear stuff like 605 West. There’s capital to be had, Durham’s fundamentals look good, so they come, they build (quickly), they leave. And Durham is left with an over-abundance of massive single-purpose structures. I wonder if we’ll have to bail some of them out, the same way we bailed out some of the failed housing developments after ’08.

    1. Speaking of that Liberty site plan, a funny thing. One of their hailed “Preservation Initiatives” is a “PARTNERSHIP WITH REUSE OF AMERICA TO SELECTIVELY DEMOLISH ENTIRE WAREHOUSE, DONATING ALL MATERIALS TO BE REFURBISHED AND REPURPOSED EITHER WITHIN THE PROJECT OR BY OTHERS.” You would think that an organization capable of refurbishing the materials from a building as large as Liberty would be fairly established, right? So try throwing the name “reuse of america” into Google. Crickets. In fact, the only mention of such an organization in the entire web appears to be … this site plan. A suspicious person might think that the bullet point was fabricated to appease Preservation Durham and the three Durham City Councilors who said that they wanted the materials reused.

      1. To be fair, they might have slipped an “of” in there by accident. My Internets come up with several reasonable candidates with “Reuse America” as part of their names (such as http://www.reuseamerica.org/).

        I’m not sure why they’d even bother manufacturing an organization for that purpose. The entire project is kind of a big f you to preservationists, and the Council had to approve *something* before the whole damn thing collapsed, so they didn’t really have any leverage anyway.

        It’s still odd to me that Preservation Durham approved this thing; unlike the council, they could’ve told them to f off without any real ramifications. Maybe they just wanted to side with the victors so they could put up a W on the board.

        1. Ah, you’re probably right about the “of.” I’m generally distrustful of East West after the way they treated the agreement with Preservation Durham. It might not be warranted here, though.

          I attended the Council hearing on removing the historic designation, and for whatever reason, the fact that materials would be recycled seemed to be important to them.

          PD has too many realtors and real estate professionals in its leadership. They need to maintain good terms with everyone, because their business is networking. As a result, they can’t fight.

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