New owners of historic Venable Center in downtown Durham to add a tower with retail, apartments

The owners of the Venable Center in downtown Durham have revealed renderings of a new office tower it plans to build on the property.
The owners of the Venable Center in downtown Durham have revealed renderings of a new office tower it plans to build on the property. Courtesy of CBRE

The new owners of the Venable Center property in downtown Durham have revealed their plans for the expansion of the historic collection of former tobacco buildings.

The new addition to the property, located at East Pettigrew Street, will be an eight-story building called The Roxboro. The building will include 200,000 square feet of office and retail space as well as 200 apartments.

The project, which is being developed by Trinity Capital Advisors, Wheelock Street Capital and SLI Capital, will also feature a rooftop lounge as well as a conference center. The eight-story building will be constructed on a parcel of land that is adjacent to the Venable Center’s parking lot right now.

Jeff Sheehan of Trinity Capital said that the company hopes to begin construction on the building as soon as it is approved by Durham’s planning department, which he reckons will be sometime in the late summer or early fall.

No tenants have been signed yet, but if the current construction timelines hold, the first tenants might be able to move into the building in the latter half of 2020, he added.

“We expect companies in the tech and biotech space looking to hire cutting edge talent to be interested in this space,” Sheehan said.

The center’s existing three buildings, which are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, are already 100 percent leased. Its largest tenant at the moment is Precision Biocsciences. Parts of the building date to 1905, but in its original heyday, the building was the home to the Venable Tobacco Co., whose markings are still on the building. Scientific Properties renovated the building in 2006.

Last summer, Bryan Kane, managing partner of Raleigh-based SLI Capital, said his firm was interested in the property because of how much demand there was for office space in downtown Durham. The downtown area has had some of the lowest vacancy rates in the entire Triangle for the past few years.

“In my opinion, the downtown Durham market continues to show demand, which is what made it an appealing investment for us,” Kane told The N&O last year. “When you look at the buildings being built or coming available in this sub-market, virtually all the space has been pre-leased. That suggests to me that there is pent-up demand.”

It’s an added bonus that the property would be adjacent to one of the many Durham-Orange Light Rail stops planned for downtown.

Sheehan said that the company wanted to include apartments and retail as part of the expansion because he believes it is currently lacking a sense of “place.” A lack of food service, additional meeting space or fitness center limits the property’s potential, he said.

The group hopes to attract a range of food offerings, from lunch spots to a high-end restaurant, to the building’s retail space.

“What I get excited about with this project is that you have existing buildings which are these cool, renovated tobacco warehouses with wood beams. They are great buildings but it is just not a place,” he said. “What we are striving for is to build on top of that and make it a place by activating the street level areas and making connections between the buildings and retail and hopefully to light rail in the future.”