The enormous hole in the ground in the center of downtown Durham is about to be filled.
After a five-month delay, construction of a 27-story skyscraper at Corcoran and Parrish streets will begin Feb. 15.
“I’m not sure we thought this day would happen,” said Greg Hills, president of Austin Lawrence Partners, at a neighborhood meeting Wednesday night. “The dirt hole that’s been there, I apologize if it inconvenienced or bothered anybody.”
The $70 million City Center project, developed by Austin Lawrence Partners, began last spring with the demolition of several vacant buildings along Main and Parrish streets, and the excavation of a swath of green space that had become a de facto park.
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When the project initially came before City Council for approval in 2014, the target date for completion was mid-2016. Construction on the tower was projected to begin last September, “but the deal got complicated,” Hills said. “Our intentions were good.”
Construction will take 27 months, with a projected opening in May 2018.
When complete, the City Center will have ground-floor retail and 155,000 square feet of office space — 55,000 of it leased by Duke University. There will be 21 floors of residences and two levels of underground parking.
The construction will change traffic patterns. Corcoran Street will become one-way south for the entire duration of the project; Parrish Street will become one-way west for a year, starting in June.
The disruption concerned Lisa Miller of Seven Star Cycles, 104 W. Parrish St., who told Hills and the development team that city officials had said the public would have an opportunity to comment on the traffic plans. “That didn’t happen,” she said.
Other Parrish Street businesses will be affected as well.
The Carrack Modern Art, a popular gallery at 111 W. Parrish St., adjoins the skyscraper site. Gallery owner Laura Ritchie said structural engineers would inspect the building this week to see if the exterior wall needs bolstering.
Day-to-day, though, Ritchie said: “I’m concerned about scheduling, because our shows are short. I’m worried about visibility. I’m worried about artists loading in and out.“
Two years ago, the City Council approved nearly $4 million in tax incentives for the project. The funds would be paid over 15 years, but only after the project is complete.
Hillis said that the financing is “solid,” and that even if an economic crash similar to the 2009 recession occurs, “the project will go on.”
Austin Lawrence Partners is also rehabbing the former Jack Tar Motel, which is across Parrish Street from the City Center.
The inside demolition of the 1950s motel, informally known as the Oprah Building, is nearly complete, including the removal of the old swimming pool, which will be replaced. Renovations will begin in late March and last 10 to 12 months.
“It’s going to be a place where a lot of locals go, just to enjoy being there,” Hills said.
That project will require a pedestrian tunnel to be built on the north side of Parrish Street.
Jennings Brody’s new home décor and gift shop, Chet Miller, is in the middle of both projects. The shop at 118 W. Parrish St. is next door to the Jack Tar and across the street from the City Center site.
“I’m super excited about the potential,” said Brody, who also owns Parker and Otis. “I’m a little scared, but if I can hold on for 2 1/2 years it’ll be great.”