Real Deals

Chesterfield renovation hangs on several ifs

Besides approval to proceed, the project needs parking

Staff WriterOctober 28, 2010 

Buried among the mountains of clutter in the security guard office of the Chesterfield building is a register showing all the people who have visited the abandoned tobacco mill over the past six years.

A number of names appear multiple times in the register during that period, including developer Josh Parker's.

Parker's history with the Chesterfield goes a long way toward explaining how the 27-year-old has positioned himself to take over the long stalled project in downtown Durham.

The team Parker has assembled, which includes Barnhill Contracting Co., JDavis Architects and investor Gary W. Heinz, have all been involved with the Chesterfield for years.

Parker's involvement in the project dates to his time working for Christian Laettner and Brian Davis' company, Blue Devil Ventures, which planned to redevelop the Chesterfield as part of West Village.

The connection is a big reason that the Chesterfield's owner, Select Capital Management, decided to work with Parker's newly formed group, Chesterfield Partners.

Parker is in a race against time to get approval, and then successfully market and sell, $65 million worth of federal stimulus bonds by the end of the year.

If that occurs, renovation of the six-story Chesterfield could begin in December. The entire project is expected to take about 20 months to complete.

Parker is rushing to line up official support for the project and work out other key details, such as where the Chesterfield's residents and office workers are going to park.

Parker said Chesterfield Partners has sent a letter of intent to Blue Devil Ventures asking to lease 220 spaces in its nearby parking deck at market rate.

If Blue Devil Ventures chooses not to let the spaces, Parker said his group is working on an agreement with a nearby landowner to lease a surface parking lot.

Parker is scheduled to go before Durham County officials Nov. 8; he acknowledges that any delay will be fatal.

"If they don't approve it, then the project is absolutely dead," he said.

Michael D. Page, chairman of the Durham County Board of Commissioners, said he is reserving judgment on the project until he meets with Parker.

"I don't know enough about it just yet," he said. "We'll sit down and meet with him, and then I'll have a better understanding about what he's trying to do."

Chesterfield Partners also needs approval from the state Local Government Commission, which is scheduled to meet Dec. 7. Stone & Young berg, a New York investment firm, has been hired to market the stimulus bonds and has been gauging interest among large institutional investors.

Renovation plans for the Chesterfield are similar to what Blue Devil Ventures hoped to do before it was forced to hand the building over to Select Capital to avoid foreclosure.

The major difference is what will become of the building's core.

The original plans called for it to be removed and replaced with an open atrium. That was deemed too expensive, Parker said, and now the building's core will be turned into 37,000 square feet of climate-controlled storage units.

In essence, the Chesterfield will become a building within a building, with office and apartments surrounding the storage space. The entrance to the storage units will be separate from the building's other entrances.

The 360,000-square-foot Chesterfield building opened around 1948. It has sat empty since Liggett & Myers Tobacco Co. moved its operations to Mebane in 2000.

The stench of stale tobacco pervades the building, which contains much of the heavy machinery used to produce Chesterfield and L&M brand cigarettes.

During a tour of the building this week, Parker said his group hopes to retain the Chesterfield's industrial charm even as it adds modern amenities such as a running track on the roof.

"It's going to be a net win for Durham," Parker said of the project. "The best of the new urban South."

david.bracken@newsobser ver.com or 919-829-4548

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