The “Crown Park Hotel” may be renovated

In yet another sign of the bonkers real estate market in Durham, even this horrible thing is going to be renovated and re-opened as a hotel called “Graduate Durham.”

The structure variously known as “The Crown Park Hotel” or “Duke Studio Condominiums” has, as long as I’ve lived in Durham, basically been abandoned. At one point its owner promised “luxury condominiums” for a princely sum of about $75000, but I don’t suppose he had many takers since the building was sold for $4.7M to a national hotel chain in 2008. That’s right about when the real estate market disintegrated, and its owners just sat on the property until now, a decision which seems to have paid off: according to the Herald, they just made a tidy profit by flipping it for a cool $7.6M.

Long time readers may know that I appreciate a degree of architectural diversity even when it comes to, let’s say, less popular styles, but there’s not much going for 600 Willard St., which is a stark, looming hulk of a building hugely set back from Duke St. and isolated from Willard by surface parking and uninspired landscaping. Environmentally speaking, saving the building is of course preferable to demolition, but I can’t help but be a bit disappointed that this structure will continue to dominate this entryway to the ATC and downtown for the forseeable future.

One can get a not-so-subtle hint of the target demographic for the renovated hotel from its name, but lest there be any confusion, here’s some copy from the chain’s web site:

We’re glad you came to stay after school. Graduate Hotels — where smart never goes out of style.

“Graduate Durham” will match the chain’s “signature design aesthetic” which, as far as I can tell, seems to be “find a building and market it to a local university.” This strikes me as a curious marketing angle considering how close the hotel is to the ATC and downtown.

As a broader observation, it sure seems like a lot of out of state investors think that Durham is just a university town, and they end up branding and marketing their properties specifically towards university students (see e.g. 605 West). Duke and Central are obviously crucial to the economy, but their student populations aren’t that large, and the recent real estate boom obviously hasn’t been triggered by some sudden influx of students. It’s odd to see such a large percentage of new development being marketed towards a relatively small group.

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