Council wants action on Parrish Street ‘eyesore’

04/15/2014 10:30 AM

04/15/2014 10:30 AM

Some members of the City Council are pushing to get something done about the burned-out and long-neglected buildings on West Parrish Street.

The buildings, at 115 and 117 W. Parrish (actually one structure with two vintage storefronts) burned in 2001 and have remained much as the fire left them ever since, through at least three owners.

“Those buildings have been an eyesore for too long,” said Councilman Eugene Brown.

“When can we expect some money to be spent to make these buildings right?” said Councilman Steve Schewel.

Maybe this fall.

The buildings and their condition came up at last week’s council work session in connection with a $3.97 million incentive for the current owner, Colorado developer Austin Lawrence Partners LLC. Austin Lawrence plans to incorporate the 115 and 117 sites into its 26-story City Center building.

Under terms presented at the work session, Austin Lawrence is required to start construction by July 1, 2015.

“Waiting another 15 months to start on that is a long time,” said Schewel, who wanted to hear the developers’ plans and schedule for dealing with the building shell – hidden from view in recent years by photographs printed onto a facade-size sheet – before voting to approve the $3.97 million.

“That’s something I want to hear from the developer,” said Councilman Don Moffitt. “I’m with Councilman Schewel in my concern with the current condition of those buildings and how long they’re going to stay in that shape.”

Greenfire Development, a Durham company, bought the Parrish Street buildings in 2006 and had plans for a project of its own that never materialized. By 2011, city officials grew concerned about the Parrish Street buildings’ stability and inspectors made three visits over a period of months – concluding it was not in imminent danger of collapse, but might in a case of extreme weather such as a hurricane.

Greenfire, in response, agreed to put a fence up to keep pedestrians at a distance and take some steps to keep the walls standing.

“It’s been a long, long time,” said Brown.

City Economic Development Director Kevin Dick said his office expects Austin Lawrence to start getting its building permits in October, and said the company might be able to start then on demolition – or whatever it’s going to do.

“What about some sort of contractural agreement about when we’re going to see this start?” Schewel said.

“Can there be?” said City Manager Tom Bonfield.

“We can go back and have some discussion with the developer,” Dick said.

“We really need to nail this down,” Brown said. “A project like this, of this size and dimension – we need, unfortunately, to think worst-case scenario. ...

“Suppose the new construction gets started and then something happens ... financially and then we’re back in the same place where we were?” he said. “Also keeping in mind that with the weather that we’ve had, it’s certainly not stabilizing these buildings; indeed just the reverse is the case. So I think this is a major concern for all of us.”

The required public hearing and, council willing, a vote whether to approve the incentive is scheduled for the council’s next regular meeting, 7 p.m. Monday at City Hall.

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