After years of legal limbo, the unused crane that has stood above a stalled apartment project on Hillsborough Street in Raleigh is finally expected to come down.
Jeff Murison, the executive director of the Hillsborough Street Community Service Corporation, said in an interview that the crane should be coming down in March.
Lee Mai, who handles permitting issues within right-of-ways for the city of Raleigh, also confirmed that the crane would be coming down. He said that parts of the street will need to be closed, as well as some of the neighboring businesses, to ensure that the crane is taken down safely.
The crane was erected in the summer of 2015 for the construction of the Hillsborough Lofts apartment project, a seven-story building that was to be aimed at students. But after the developer of the project got into a legal dispute with the construction company it hired, the project stalled.
Many residents have called the crane an eyesore and worried about its safety after years of not being used. A community meeting for Hillsborough Street residents and business people earlier this year drew around 50 people to discuss the future of the property.
Mai said no date has been set for when the crane will come down — but the city is targeting the weekend of March 8, which is when N.C. State University starts its spring break.
Culley Carson, the Raleigh lawyer that represents Morrow, the company that owns the crane, said his client has had legal access to the crane since spring of 2018, though its plans to dismantle it have been delayed because of the permitting process with the city.
Efforts to reach lawyers for Hillsborough Lofts were not immediately successful.
The dispute goes back to 2014, when Hillsborough Lofts and Wright Construction signed a contract in October 2014 for a 75-foot-tall building with 10,000 square feet of ground-level retail, next to The Alley bowling alley, which is now a mini-Target, and Two Guys Pizza.
A crane was erected over the site near the intersection of Hillsborough and Horne streets in June 2015, and it has remained there, shifting in the wind, ever since. Hillsborough Lofts terminated the contract with Wright Construction in December 2015 and immediately began arbitration against the contractor, The News & Observer previously reported.
In 2017, an arbitration panel ruled that the property developer, and not the construction contractor, was to blame for repeated delays, and so the developer wasn’t justified in canceling the contract.
Shortly after that ruling, Hillsborough Lofts filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The bankruptcy filing put the legal dispute between Hillsborough Lofts and Wright Construction on hold again, Matthew Bouchard, an attorney who has represented Wright Construction, told The N&O last month.
“It is an incredibly valuable parcel of land and it deserves to be developed in the right way and no longer be an eyesore,” Bouchard said. “My client was wrongly terminated from the project, which is what the arbitrator said. We would’ve loved to complete it and it would’ve been a boon to the Hillsborough Street area.”
But despite the crane coming down, the future of the property is still murky.
“The removal of the crane will reduce the eyesore that the property is, but it doesn’t resolve the underlying issue that the property is stalled,” Murison said. “It is an improvement but it’s a long way to go before the street looks its best again.”
Residents and businesses on the street just want something built, Murison added.
Mai, who works for the city, said that after the crane is taken down, it will be returned to its supplier, Morrow. Allstate Crane will be tasked with taking down the structure, he said.
He added that taking away the crane will likely make a lot of people happy, but he cautioned that even if a new plan is introduced, the property will still be in its current state for a while.
“Even if this thing was resolved tomorrow, it will take at least a year to go through the plan reviews again,” Mai said. “So, we might as well get rid of the crane, while it is still in litigation.”