Real Deals

Finishing West Village

Christian Laettner said he and Brian Davis are optimistic about completing project

Staff WriterFebruary 18, 2010 

Christian Laettner says he andBrian Davis are determined to finish what they started.

After a rough year that saw the former Duke basketball stars facing lawsuits from angry lenders, Laettner and Davis remain confident that they will be involved in completing the third and final phase of their visionary West Village project in downtown Durham.

"A lot of good things are happening," Laettner said in a phone interview last week. "A lot of tough times happened in the last year, but we were able to get through it."

That optimism is good news for the revitalization of downtown Durham, which has been transformed over the past 15 years as developers have converted abandoned tobacco warehouses into apartments, shops and offices.

The stalled final phase of West Village includes the six-story art deco Chesterfield building, an imposing relic of Durham's tobacco past that sits between the re-emerging city center and its established Brightleaf Square district to the west.

It was only four months ago that Laettner and Davis, facing fore closure, turned over control of the West Village tract that includes the Chesterfield to their lender, Select Capital Management of Rock Island, Ill.

Laettner and Davis then partnered with Scientific Properties of Durham to try to buy back the property. Select Capital turned down their offer and is now in negotiations with Octagon Partners, a Charlottesville firm that focuses on redeveloping historic properties in college towns.

"They have the bid, and they're going to allow us to bring in some of our own money to get back into the Chesterfield," Laettner said. "We're trying to get in at least 50 percent and maybe more."

J.P. Williamson, a partner withOctagon, confirmed that negotiations are under way and that Laettner andDavis are taking part, though not directly with Octagon.

"They are involved to some degree, but not with us," Williamson said.

Attempts to reach Select Capital officials were unsuccessful.

Among the reasons Laettner and Davis are likely to be involved in the Chesterfield's redevelopment is parking.

Their company, Blue Devil Ventures, built a 462-space parking deck on Fuller Street that may be needed to give Chesterfield users a place to park.

Original plans for the Chesterfield called for it to be converted into 157 apartments and almost 70,000 square feet of offices and ground-floor shops.

"In my opinion, for any redevelopment of the Chesterfield building, there's going to have to be a parking deal worked out," said Bill Kalkhof, president of Downtown Durham Inc.

Laettner said he and Davis' legal problems are being resolved.

Laettner said he was in Durham two months ago to complete mediation with petroleum giant Chevron, which alleged that Blue Devil Ventures had not repaid $1.5 million lent to redevelop the Chesterfield.

A separate suit involves a Maryland company led by Shawne Merriman, a linebacker for the San Diego Chargers, that accused Laettner andDavis of failing to abide by terms of a $3 million loan and a settlement reached last year in federal court.

The most recent suit was filed in November by a company that contends that Laettner and Davis have not paid back a $500,000 loan that was to be used to develop property in Baltimore.

"They are all being settled," Laettner said.

Laettner said he and Davis are in talks with Scientific Properties to partner on other projects in downtown Durham. He also said the pair is in the process of closing on another 50,000-square-foot building in West Village that will be converted into labs.

Overall, West Village has been a remarkable success story. Nearly all of the 453 apartments are occupied, and 80 percent of the 140,000 square feet of commercial space is leased.

Kalkhof said bringing in a proven developer like Octagon that specializes in renovating historic buildings would be good for downtown and the Chesterfield.

"It's a great building in a great location," Kalkhof said. "Eventually, its time will come."

david.bracken@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4548

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