Durham council paves way for new projects

Staff writerAugust 5, 2009 

— Commercial development in the Bull City got two shots in the arm this week.

Durham City Council members approved $2.6 million worth of incentives for Greenfire Development to turn the Hill (aka SunTrust) Building into a ritzy hotel and to renovate three smaller downtown buildings for stores and apartments.

The council also gave the thumbs up to Brightleaf Commons, a 431,052-square foot shopping center on U.S. 70 meant to compete with Brier Creek Commons, about three miles away in Wake County.

Both votes Monday night were unanimous.

Greenfire's incentives require the company investing at least $47 million of its own money and meeting construction deadlines. City economic development director Kevin Dick said the city should get $27 million worth of increased tax value and other benefits for its investment.

Neighbors voice worries

The Greenfire incentives passed with little discussion.

The shopping center, planned for a 71-acre site at U.S. 70 and Sanders Avenue next to the Brightleaf at the Park subdivision, was different.

"Brightleaf Commons will bring this area ... good things it doesn't have," said attorney Lewis Cheek, representing developer Real Estate Associates of Durham.

About 20 nearby residents at the council meeting had a different opinion, expressing worries about traffic, noise, crime, property values and a lesser quality of life they fear the project will bring.

"It's a big gorilla," said homeowner James Smith. By comparison, Northgate Mall has about 900,000 square feet.

"We're doing what we can to protect the neighborhood,"Cheek said.

Councilman Eugene Brown, who sells residential real estate, said nearby shopping is attractive to homebuyers now.

"Three, five, 10 years from now, when you decide to move and put your house on the market, that will be an asset," he said.

Real Estate Associates President Joe Jernigan said construction should take about 18 months, but the start date depends on securing financing and tenants.

"It all depends on the economy," he said.

jim.wise@newsobserver.com or 919-932-2004

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