Troubled building changes hands

Boosters of Durham cheer the sale of a building linked to violence downtown

Staff WriterNovember 4, 2005 

A downtown Durham building with a troubled past is now in the hands of a prominent local developer.

Residents and downtown boosters say they think the sale of 118 W. Main St. to developer Michael Lemanski will wipe the slate clean for the address, a former nightclub where three patrons have been shot in the past year, one fatally.

Lemanski's primary business, Greenfire Development, already has transformed aging buildings on Main Street into trendy upscale lofts. He has also acquired a half-dozen historic downtown properties in recent years.

In his most recent venture, Lemanski bought 118 W. Main St. for $400,000 through a new enterprise called Headway LLC. He bought the property from Kim Grainger, according to documents filed with the Durham County register of deeds and the N.C. Department of the Secretary of State.

Lemanski was not immediately available Thursday, but a representative from Greenfire Development said the company initially hoped to find a commercial or retail tenant for the space before starting any long-term plans.

The building has become notorious over the past year because of its tenants -- nightclubs that often drew violence.

Last winter, when the venue was known as MK's House of Jazz and R&B, two teenage girls were shot in separate incidents inside and near the club. The victims were attending parties at the club, as was one of the suspects, police said.

State officials investigated the club and found legal problems with its liquor license and ownership. The business closed temporarily but reopened in September as Club 1000. Three weeks later, a 35-year-old man was shot to death while leaving the club.

Despite the venue's name change, city officials learned that it was run by some of the same people.

Grainger, the building's owner, announced plans to sell it several months ago; after the homicide, she agreed to cancel a lease with Club 1000.

Grainger could not be reached for comment Thursday, but Durham lawyer Richard F. Prentis Jr. said his client was pleased at the outcome.

"I think the short-term plan is to find a law-abiding tenant to take over for a while," said Greenfire Development associate Summer Steverson. Plans for a complete renovation could be further down the road, she said.

In March, when Greenfire Development opened its new $2.4 million residential lofts in the former Baldwin's department store at 107 W. Main St., Lemanski vowed to invest $50 million to $100 million in downtown Durham over the next five years.

Downtown resident Caleb Southern said Thursday that the most recent purchase was a solid step toward solving the problems at 118 W. Main St.

"My fear was that this club or building would continue to change hands among the same people and go back to the same problems," Southern said. "This gives us a guarantee that those days are over."

Although the negative publicity of the shootings at the address might have swayed some from visiting downtown Durham, taking the club away won't immediately reverse that image, said Reyn Bowman, president of the Durham Convention and Visitors Bureau.

"The city's image doesn't rest on every single good and bad thing that happens," Bowman said. "It's tied to the balance."

(News researcher Sarah Radick contributed to this report.)

Staff writer Samiha Khanna can be reached at 956-2468 or skhanna@newsobserver.com.

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