Greenfire project nears green light

Staff WriterFebruary 16, 2008 

— Plans to convert three city-owned parking facilities into a mix of residential and retail space are part of $284 million in new downtown construction Greenfire Development hopes to complete by 2015.

Details of the proposed public-private partnership, which call for the city to kick in $12 million, were disclosed by city officials and others Friday after months of behind-the-scenes discussion.

Alan Delisle, director of the city's Economic and Workforce Development Department, said the full report will be made public Monday. The City Council will discuss it at its Thursday work session.

The proposal was lauded by downtown revitalization advocates as a leap forward in the effort to pump life and money into the once-crumbling city center. Already the Greenfire plan is being compared to two existing developments, the American Tobacco Campus and West Village Apartments, both widely hailed as successes.

"These are transformational projects," Councilman Mike Woodard said of the Greenfire plan.

"With all the other exciting things that are going on downtown, here's a chance for another group to come in and provide residential, hotels, class-A office space and some of the amenities that are going to make our downtown even more dynamic."

Founded in 2003, Greenfire is a Durham-based company with a stated mission of revitalizing downtown. It already has acquired 19 downtown properties, including landmarks such as the Hill Building, home to SunTrust Bank.

Under the proposal, which requires City Council approval, the city would sell the Chapel Hill Street parking deck, the parking lot at the intersection of Parrish and Church streets and the lot at Ramseur and Corcoran streets to Greenfire.

Greenfire then would build a mix of residential and retail space on those parcels.

Ground-floor retail stores would wrap around the new parking deck at Chapel Hill Street, with residential units on the upper floors.

The Ramseur and Parrish street lots would be primarily condominiums with some ground-floor retail.

These projects would coincide with the conversion of the Hill Building into a 150-room boutique hotel and spa, as well as the Rogers Alley mixed-use project and an 18- to 20-story office tower at Parrish, Corcoran and Main streets.

Bill Kalkhof, president of Downtown Durham Inc., said the incentives are the way these kinds of deals get done.

He said the increase in property tax revenue, not to mention sales taxes and the ancillary businesses that likely would crop up, means "from Day 1, there's a net gain to the public taxpayer."

"I think this will certainly send a tremendous message of confidence to our investors and builders about our city center district," Kalkhof added.

Greenfire has been poised for a big move after snatching up 19 downtown Durham properties.

This is it, said company spokeswoman Anna Branly.

"It's looking at how we can really transform the city center," she said, using the term invoked by Kalkhof and Woodard.

"It's really the beginning."

Parking shuffle

Durham would lease back 380 parking spaces in the Chapel Hill Street deck, so there would be no loss of public parking there.

It's unclear what would become of the more than 150 spaces at the Parrish and the Ramseur lots.

Delisle of the Economic and Workforce Development agency, has led the city's discussions with Greenfire. He said it's possible the city could pay for an extra level at one or both of the new parking structures.

He noted that the lot at Parrish and Church streets is used mainly by courthouse personnel. When a new courthouse is built by 2012, "that parking demand will go with it," Delisle said.

Woodard said he hopes city officials can push the project ahead quickly.

"But clearly we have got to do extreme due diligence in analyzing any kind of incentives we may provide," Woodard said.

"This has to be a good deal for the taxpayers of Durham."

matt.dees@newsobserver.com or (919) 956-2433

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