Raleigh businessman buys Boylan-Pearce building downtown

Raleigh businessman plans renovations for downtown Raleigh site

rstradling@newsobserver.comDecember 27, 2012 

  • Boylan-Pearce James Boylan and J. Burrell Pearce opened a department store on Fayetteville Street in the heart of Raleigh’s retail district in 1899. Boylan died a short time later, but the store kept the name of its founders through a succession of owners. Boylan-Pearce aimed for the cosmopolitan shopper, at one time employing buyers in New York, Paris, Berlin, Vienna and Prague. The store remained on Fayetteville Street until 1955, when it moved to Cameron Village, both for more space and to follow the shoppers. After moving to North Raleigh in the 1980s, the store closed for good in 1990.

— A century-old department store building that has been vacant on Raleigh’s main street for more than a decade has a new owner who plans to bring it back to life.

Businessman Dean Debnam bought the Boylan-Pearce building on Friday for $1.4 million and expects to invest an additionalother $3.5 million to $4 million on renovations. Debnam says he wants to live in part of the three-story building, but doesn’t know yet what he will do with the rest.

“I think there’s great potential down there, and I don’t think there will be any problem finding uses for the building,” he said. “I just want to make sure we find the right uses.”

Debnam says he has hired the Clearscapes architecture firm to develop ideas and options for the building, which could include retail and office space.

But he said the first step will be to restore the building to what it looked like in 1911, when the Boylan-Pearce Co. opened its 26,000-square-foot store on Fayetteville Street. That includes rebuilding a grand stairway and a heavy front awning that disappeared during successive renovations of the building.

“We’ll be looking to restore as many of these elements as possible,” Debnam said. “We will design around those and respect what the building was.”

Debnam is the latest in a line of people to invest in real estate on Fayetteville Street since the city ripped out a pedestrian mall and restored the street to traffic in 2006.

This week, a New York real estate firm paid $5.2 million for the old Wachovia bank building across the street, according to property records. LRC Opportunity Fund plans to spend more than $10 million renovating the interior and exterior of the 10-story building, which has been vacant for more than a year.

Debnam acquired Boylan-Pearce from the A. J. Fletcher Foundation, which bought it in 2000 hoping to repeat its success with the 138-year-old Briggs Hardware building next door. The foundation began by removing a giant slab of stucco that had obscured the Boylan-Pearce building’s original beaux-arts facade of stone, concrete and terra cotta. But it never found tenants and put the building on the market in early 2011.

The building is long and narrow, 210 feet long by just 31 feet wide. Debnam thinks the width would make it difficult to develop as a restaurant or other gathering space, despite 17- to 19-foot ceilings on all three floors and uninterrupted space that runs through the block to Salisbury Street.

The building is made of poured-concrete, a rare innovation in a small Southern city in the early 20th century. Debnam hopes to create a home for himself on part of the third floor or perhaps in a new structure on the roof.

Debnam, 58, owns several businesses, including Public Policy Polling and Workplace Options, a human resources company. He owns two buildings and leases space in another off Highwoods Boulevard in North Raleigh, and says he doesn’t anticipate moving any of his businesses downtown.

But he looks forward to moving himself from a home near North Hills to downtown, which has come alive in recent years with new restaurants and nightspots.

“I do business around the world and have a flat in London,” he said. “I like being able to walk everywhere.”

Staff writer David Bracken contributed

Stradling: 919-829-4739

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