Durham OKs $1M for shopping center makeover

jwise@newsobserver.comSeptember 4, 2012 

— With assurances of jobs, low-cost housing, tax revenue and revival in a declining business district, City Council members approved a $1 million incentive for a Charlotte developer by a 4-2 vote Monday night.

Hawthorne Retails Partners gets the money, though, only after completing its proposed University Marketplace mixed-use project at the former Regency Plaza shopping center site in the South Square area.

Economic Development Director Kevin Dick said University Marketplace would catalyze reinvestment in a “blighted ... deteriorating business (district),” and create 690 jobs, 370 of them long-term.

As planned, University Marketplace will include more than 85,000 square feet of retail space, a 625-space parking deck and 330 residential apartments. The developer is reserving 15 percent of the apartments to rent at prices “affordable” to households with incomes 80 percent of the area median.

At an August work session, Mayor Bill Bell said he would like to see subsidies to make the apartments affordable for even lower incomes. Monday night, Dick said increased subsidies would make the project “virtually unfeasible.”

Durham resident Arthur Rogers, speaking in support of the incentive, said University Marketplace is “exactly what we should encourage in Durham.”

Joe Jernigan, owner of a commercial real-estate firm, said the project would “spur development, redevelopment, renovation ... in an area of Durham that is currently depressed and stagnant.”

Bell was not present at Monday’s meeting. Council Members Steve Schewel and Diane Catotti voted against the incentive.

Catotti said the city should reserve its incentives for targeted areas in the central city and the proposal lacked housing for lower-income tenants.

The site, near a planned mass-transit stop, could support higher density, she said, and city planning staff is still working on guidelines for low-cost housing near transit stations.

Wise: 919-641-5895

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