Jason Queen had spent a decade imagining what the abandoned 1920s-era warehouse a block from his home might become – seeing endless potential in the brick walls covered with chipped paint, the massive boarded-up doors tall enough for a bus to drive through and the collapsed roof.
Since moving to the Olde East neighborhood on downtown Raleigh’s eastern edge, Queen has renovated dozens of historic homes there. So when the city started looking for developers to revamp Stone’s Warehouse, a space once used as a bus repair garage, Queen was among the first to raise his hand.
The city bought his vision of a food hall with a grocery store, townhomes and shops, awarding him and his partners, known as Transfer Co., the contract last year to buy and develop the property. This week, the company is starting to sign on businesses who want to lease space there, and construction should start this summer.
The project marks a departure for Queen’s company, who in less than a decade as a developer has focused on renovating historic homes and building new ones, all within a few dozen blocks of his home. But Queen says his close ties to the community and passion for historic preservation will help ensure the venture’s success.
“I’ve looked at that thing for 10 years – I’d sit down and daydream it,” says Queen, who has master’s degrees in urban planning and business administration from UNC-Chapel Hill and N.C. State University. “If you look at a building long enough, it will tell you what it wants to be.”
The growing number of new and renovated homes in Olde East has raised concerns that the area will soon lack affordable housing – a key controversy in discussions on the Stone’s building. In the end, the city agreed to put much of the $2 million from the sale toward affordable housing projects.
Some residents have come to rely on Queen to turn around blighted properties, though many worry that higher home values might change the character of the neighborhood. In most corners, however, anticipation for retail and fresh food in what has long been a crumbling piece of Raleigh history is running high.
“Everything he does is to improve the neighborhood,” says Greg Wimberley, who owns a house near Queen and has worked on his projects as an electrician. “He’s invested in his community and he’s aware of the needs there. Southeast Raleigh has been clamoring for some businesses, and this is a start.”
Drawn to preservation
Queen grew up in Burlington, where his parents worked in the mills. He suspects his interest in historic homes might have come from his early experience living in a series of rental homes built in bygone eras.
“We moved around a lot when I was a kid and stayed in a lot of older houses, and I’m just super passionate about them,” he says.
He spent his early career as a chef, working up to several high-profile restaurants in Greensboro. But the long, irregular hours didn’t bode well for family life, so Queen returned to college.
He entered N.C. State as a 26-year-old freshman majoring in agriculture. But he found his place studying entrepreneurship and ended up earning a degree in business.
While his plans weren’t clear, he liked the idea of forging his own path.
He worked for the Downtown Raleigh Alliance out of college as a research assistant, where he did regular inventories of downtown buildings – an experience that would help him identify real estate opportunities.
He later worked as director of urban issues for Preservation N.C., a nonprofit devoted to preserving the state’s historic properties. At the same time, he was working as a real estate investment broker and earning dual master’s degrees.
Queen quickly took on a leading role as a proponent of preservation-minded development. He’s a member of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and has won several awards for his preservation efforts. One of the houses he restored, the Atwater-Perry House, is now a Raleigh Historic Landmark.
In 2010, he founded Raleigh Restoration Group, a development collaborative focused on pedestrian-friendly and sustainable development. Four years later, he started Monarch Property Co., making official the residential development business he had started almost by accident.
Queen moved to Olde East when he was attending N.C. State because it was less expensive than living near campus. He watched as the downtown revitalization took place a few blocks away, drawing ever more businesses and people to the area.
When a nearby house went into foreclosure, Queen and his wife bought it from the bank and moved in. They renovated that house and sold it, then bought another one and did it again.
“One thing led to another,” he says. “It got to the point where our neighbors would call us when there was an opportunity to buy.”
In all, Queen says, he’s bought and developed close to 50 homes in the area, many of them adhering to strict standards for historic preservation that come with federal tax credits – as he expects the Stone’s renovation will.
Myrick Howard, president of Preservation NC, calls Queen “a maniac for preservation” whose passion for his work helps him wade through the many painstaking details that are part of renovating historic buildings.
“Once he gets locked onto something, he gets that laser focus on a project,” says Howard. “That’s what you need to be successful in a lot of these situations.”
Queen says he loves the details of such projects, even minutiae such as the color of the grout used. There will be many such details to consider with Stone’s, which has saplings growing through cement floors; a large chunk of the roof has been missing since tornadoes swept through the area in 2011.
Queen says he started his planning for the site talking with leaders in the community, including its citizens advisory council, to see what they’d like to see in the building.
The top draw was a grocery store. Queen had seen other efforts fail, so he wanted to find a mix of businesses that would help keep the grocery store afloat.
He found a model in the Saxapahaw General Store, an Alamance County gathering place that serves locals but is also a destination for visitors from throughout the Triangle.
The owners of the Saxapahaw store have signed on to open a grocery store with a café in part of the warehouse. Other committed tenants include Videiri Chocolate and Locals Seafood.
Both confident and self-deprecating, Queen says he was well aware of his inexperience when developing plans for the site.
“I knew I was the weakest link, so I had to build a strong team,” he says, referring to the architects, designers and others who are hashing out details for the site.
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Born: October 1979, Greensboro
Career: Founder, Monarch Property Co.
Awards: Capital Area Preservation Award for historic preservation in East Raleigh, 2014;
Education: B.S. business administration and MBA, N.C. State University; M.A. city and regional planning, UNC-Chapel Hill
Family: Wife Jeanne, two children
Fun fact: Queen got to cook for a number of celebrities at the Grandover Resort and Conference Center in Greensboro. He says he cooked for Oprah Winfrey, rapper Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre, and the band Earth, Wind and Fire, who asked for a family-style Thanksgiving feast with 14 turkeys.