For all the attention the ongoing revitalization of downtown Raleigh has drawn in recent years, it’s hard not to think that it will soon be overshadowed by the activity sweeping downtown Durham.
Last week, Austin Lawrence Partners began initial site work on what will be the tallest building in Durham – a 27-story tower at the corner of Corcoran and Main streets that will be a mix of offices, retail shops, apartments and condominiums.
Austin Lawrence expects to have an official groundbreaking for the tower in early April, about the time that it plans to begin work on renovating the adjacent Jack Tar Hotel.
“They’ll almost be going at the same time,” said Greg Hills, Austin Lawrence’s president.
While the Aspen, Colo.-based developer is still working on architectural drawings for the hotel, Hills said the plan is to expand it from 44 to 75 rooms while adding ground-floor retail, a rooftop deck, pool and bar. Hills described the project’s aesthetic as a “boutique, millennial, cool place to go” hotel.
Austin Lawrence has selected an operator for the hotel, but Hills said the company isn’t ready to announce it yet.
Reviving the core
As for the 27-story tower, which is to be built on the former Woolworth’s site, that will include 25,000 square feet of retail, 130,000 square feet of office, 31 condos and 109 apartments. Duke University has already agreed to lease 55,000 square feet of office space in the tower.
Austin Lawrence is also reconstructing the facades of five historic buildings on Main and Parrish streets that it has also acquired. Construction of the tower and renovations of the existing buildings are scheduled to be completed in the first quarter of 2017.
Both projects will go a long way toward reviving the core of downtown Durham, an area that has become a focus of redevelopment activity. Among the other projects now taking place is the transformation of the Hill building, also called the SunTrust Tower, into the boutique hotel 21c Museum.
“As Durham gets nicer and nicer in the core and more and more businesses are there ... it will be interesting to see what else happens,” Hills said. “ ... We’re pretty excited to play a little part in that.”
Austin Lawrence also owns a third property downtown, a nearly 2-acre site that is adjacent to where Longfellow Real Estate Partners is planning to build its 15-acre Innovation District. That district calls for a 1 million square feet of lab and office space for life sciences and technology companies as well as 300,000 square feet of residential.
The 2-acre site on Main Street is now home to the seven-story SouthBank building. Hills said Austin Lawrence has a initial concept for what it wants to do with the property but hasn’t yet begun working with the city on the project.
The concept would involve demolishing the SouthBank building and replacing it with a high-density development that could include retail shops, an urban grocery, a drug store and an entertainment complex.
Hills said thus far downtown Durham has turned out to be an ideal place for Austin Lawrence to apply its approach to redevelopment.
“We don’t tend to do the same thing and repeat it in a bunch of different places,” he said. “We tend to go into a market, find a niche and fill it. We like transformational projects. We like historic preservation.”