Developer buys former car lot near Durham Central Park. Here's what it might become.

Developer Paul Smith recently acquired an old used-car lot at 614 Rigsbee Ave. for $2.5 million, according to county records
Developer Paul Smith recently acquired an old used-car lot at 614 Rigsbee Ave. for $2.5 million, according to county records The Herald-Sun

A developer and an architect with ties to some of the largest projects in downtown Durham are eyeing a new opportunity near Durham Central Park.

Paul Smith, who has worked with Greenfire Development and One City Center backer Austin Lawrence Partners, recently bought a 1-acre parcel at 614 Rigsbee Ave. for $2.5 million, according to Durham County records. The property, formerly a used-car lot, is across the street from the Liberty Warehouse apartments.

Smith is partnering with Scott Harmon, the owner of Durham-based Center Studio Architecture. Harmon has built projects such as the Church + Main condos and Mangum Flats.

"We have always had an interest in working on a project together," Smith said. "The opportunity came along to buy this property together, so we did. We love the location; we think it is a great site."

The two are still considering what they want to do with the site, Smith said, and no plans have been submitted to the city. But it's likely the project will add to the number of residential units in downtown.

"There is a good chance it will have a residential component," Smith said. "That is what we are studying right now. We do expect to make a decision very quickly. We want to break ground before the end of the year. "

Rigsbee Central Park LLC, which is registered under Smith's name, bought the Rigsbee property from Somerset Partners of North Carolina LLC on March 1.

Somerset Partners, which lists its managers as Alston Gardner and Lucy Stokes, had acquired the property in 2014 for $1.15 million, according to county records. The sale was first reported by the Triangle Business Journal. Smith said he had been seriously considering the property for the past four to five months.

The property is in a section of downtown with a popular nightlife scene. Nearby bars include Fullsteam Brewery, Durty Bull Brewing, Motorco and Surf Club. Recently Boxcar Bar + Arcade and Urban Axes, which lets patrons competitively throw axes, targeted the Central Park neighborhood for expansion.

A 160-unit apartment building is also being planned a block away next to Durham Central Park.

"Durham continues to have significant growth," Smith said. "We particularly like Central Park because we think it is an area people actually want to live. "

"It's in heart of downtown surrounded by great nightlife," he added, "and the Liberty Warehouse apartments leased up very quickly."

Zachery Eanes: 919-419-6684