A giant crane juts into the downtown sky, bookmarking what will become downtown Durham’s tallest building.
Over the next two years or so, the 27-story, $88 million One City Center will rise from a massive dirt pit extending four stories below ground.
“The crane will stay in that spot, 100 percent, until the very end of the project,” said Jane Hills, who along with her husband and Duke University alumnus Greg, own Aspen, Colorado-based Austin Laurence Partners. “They build around it.”
When it’s time to start occupying the building, the crane, which will be raised about 100 feet higher as construction fills in the ground floors, will be broken down and removed, Hills said.
One City Center is one of two of Austin Lawrence Partners’ projects under construction near the corner of West Parrish and Corcoran streets. The company is also renovating the former Jack Tar Motor Lodge into a 74-room boutique hotel that will be the first to fall under Dream Hotel’s Unscripted brand. Austin Lawrence Partners bought the building and its 250-space parking deck to meet parking demands for the larger tower.
While the street and sidewalk closings and adjustments may be stressful for shop owners, pedestrians and drivers, the final product will bring a vigorous bustle to that part of downtown, Hills said.
“We are creating a neighborhood within a neighborhood,” Hills said.
One City Center is expected to accommodate about 600-plus people daily, Hills said, with two stories of parking, four floors of retail and offices and 21 floors of residences – 30 condos and 109 apartments.
“The pool is on the very top,” Hills said.
The project is expected to be complete in spring 2018.
Jack Tar vision
Meanwhile, the $24 million renovation of the former Jack Tar building is on the “fast-track,” Hills said.
The architectural vision for the modernist hotel remains the same as when it was built in 1962, and the renovation should be completed by April 2017.
“The vision is what it was,” Hills said.
Workers will restore the pool, a surrounding deck and add a bar that will be open to the public certain hours. While not included in the hotel, the development also includes a restaurant on the corner of Corcoran and West Parrish streets, where Blue Coffee Cafe used to be.
“We have five different groups looking at this space right now,” Hills said.
On the corner of Corcoran and East Chapel Hill Street, Littler and Pizzeria Toro owners Gray Brooks and his wife will open the Jack Tar Diner.
While many have applauded the projects that are moving a stalled area of a rapidly revitalizing downtown forward, others have held the tower project and its high-end condos up as yet another sign of gentrification. A mock Twitter handle has even been created, @giantdurmpit, which lists its name as pitofgentrification.
“We understand,” Hills said of the criticism. “We expected that.”
Still, Hills said, the project is bringing more people and businesses downtown.
“What we are offering is retail. We are bringing workers. We are bringing apartment and condominium living,” she said. “We are creating a neighborhood that is going to frequent all of the restaurants and hotels.”
The criticism doesn’t appear to be hurting the condos that are selling for $630,000 to $1.8 million.
Of the 22 condos that are on the market, 14 have been sold, including all four of the penthouses, and two are under contract.
“I can’t even tell you how overwhelmed we are with the success,” Hills said.
Buyers, whose ages range from 25 to 75, include Durham residents, graduates of local universities and a parent of a Duke University student who is a “major league business owner” out of Hong Kong.
“He wants to invest in Durham,” Hills said.
Another buyer from Singapore owns a local software company and has been staying at the 21c Museum Hotel one week a month. The Hills have also purchased a unit.
The One City Center timeline includes completing the foundation and floor for the parking deck by Labor Day. The first two levels of the parking garage are expected to be completed by mid-November. Then workers will start constructing the podium, the six-story base of the building.
“So you are going to see then, finally, this building coming out of this hole,” Hills said, “which everybody is excited about.”
The podium should be completed around February 2017, and then the residential tower structure, which will jut out of the podium, should start going up and the exterior completed by the summer of 2017.
Brick from buildings that once sat on that block will cover up to 80 percent of the podium, Hills said. But they won’t go on until the end.
“That is like the lipstick and jewelry,” she said.
About the government incentives
The city agreed to pay a total of up to $3.97 million over a 15-year period. Deal points require the company to retain original brickwork and some other architectural features of the facades.
Under the proposal, the city would net an estimated $4.3 million after paying the incentive from increased tax revenue over 15 years.
Incentive payments would not start until the project construction is done, and continue for 15 years as long as the motel remains in business and the tower maintains an occupancy rate high enough to ensure long-term, minimum job creation.
Durham County approved a similar deal for $3.97 million in incentives.