Real Deals: New hotels continue to sprout in Durham

The 198-room JB Duke Hotel will be at the edge of Duke’s West Campus. It will be a full-service hotel with two bars and 20,850-square-feet of meeting space.
The 198-room JB Duke Hotel will be at the edge of Duke’s West Campus. It will be a full-service hotel with two bars and 20,850-square-feet of meeting space. JB Duke Hotel

When Duke University announced last week that it plans to open a second on-campus hotel early next year, it marked the latest in a flurry of hotel development activity in and around downtown Durham.

Just three years ago Durham was desperately in need of more hotel rooms. In downtown, rooms were needed both to enable the city’s convention center to attract larger events, and to meet demand created by a growing office market.

Fast forward to today, and the city’s hotel situation is drastically improved.

Four new hotels opened last year in downtown, adding 438 rooms to the 189 city-center rooms available at the Durham Marriott Civic Center. Two more downtown hotels are slated to open in the spring of 2017.

Both projects involve renovating hotel properties that have been dormant for years.

AJ Capital Partners is converting a shuttered 150-room hotel at 600 Williard St., a block from American Tobacco Campus, into a Graduate Hotel, a new brand of college town boutique hotels that the developer launched in 2014.

The second project is developer Austin Lawrence Partners’ renovation of the former Jack Tar Motor Lodge. That property is to be rebranded as the first Unscripted Hotel, a new brand launched by Dream Hotel Group. The 74-room Unscripted Hotel is expected to open in March or April of 2017.

Duke’s $62 million project is the 198-room JB Duke Hotel, which is being built at the edge of the university’s West Campus on a site that includes the R. David Thomas Executive Conference Center.

The conference center, which was built in 1989, is also being renovated and will become a component within a larger facility that includes the hotel.

“We designed the JB Duke Hotel to serve as an attractive option for a wide range of events, from professional and academic conferences to social gatherings, personal celebrations and weddings,” said Gregg Hilker, the manager of the new hotel.

The JB Duke will be managed by the same entity that manages the university’s other on-campus hotel, the Washington Duke Inn & Golf Club.

Hilker said the JB Duke will be a “modern twist on southern hospitality that will complement the traditional aspects” of the Washington Duke Inn & Golf Club.

Thanks to the projects that have already been completed, Durham is quickly developing a reputation as a place with a funky and eclectic mix of boutique hotels. That reputation will only be enhanced once the Graduate and Unscripted hotels open.

Already visitors can choose from the 21C Museum Hotel in the renovated Hill Building, which includes a modern art museum on the first floor. Or the Durham Hotel, which opened in the former Mutual Community Savings Bank and includes a rooftop lounge. There’s also the Aloft Hotel between the Durham Performing Arts Center and the Durham Bulls Athletic Park.

The level of hotel development occurring in Durham is particularly noteworthy when you compare it to downtown Raleigh, which is also in desperate need of more rooms to help it attract larger events to its convention center.

Just one hotel, a 166-unit Marriott Residence Inn now under construction, has broken ground in recent years despite intense interest from developers.

David Bracken: 919-829-4548, @brackendavid