Midtown Raleigh News

Historic home to become events venue in Raleigh’s Blount Street Commons

The Merrimon-Wynne house was built in downtown Raleigh around 1875 as the home of a judge and U.S. senator and was later used as a college dormitory, a college president’s house and, finally, state offices.

Now, a new owner is breathing fresh life into the 4,800-square-foot home, which is part of a 21-acre urban renewal project called Blount Street Commons. Jodi Heyens purchased the house at 500 North Blount St. in June and plans to convert it into a venue for special events and weddings.

“There were other homes I was considering, but they didn’t have the grand aspect of this house,” Heyens said.

Merrimon-Wynne is the most recent of six historic houses sold in the Blount Street Commons area, an encouraging step for a redevelopment project marred with false starts and scaling back. Blount Street Commons got started in June 2008 just as the real estate market entered a prolonged slump, and the lead developer, LNR Property Corp. of Florida, has abandoned plans to develop some of the property.

The state picked LNR to redevelop several blocks of parking lots and old homes north of the Governor’s Mansion and build new row houses and condominiums around the restored grand old homes on Blount Street. All six of the historic homes the company has sold so far will be used as commercial or office spaces.

“The master plan from 2006 originally envisioned that they would return to residential,” said Hilary Stokes, a broker with Allen Tate Realty who handled the sales. “But the recession changed those plans. So by the nature of the size of the homes and the economy, they became more attractive to commercial buyers.”

Inspired by her own quest

Heyens said she got the idea to open the Merrimon-Wynne house when she was planning her own wedding in a historic home in Charleston, S.C. “I was looking for something very similar to this in Raleigh, and it didn’t exist,” she said.

Heyens says the upstairs of the house will have one room as an office and another as a bridal suite. The rest of the home will be suited to accommodate weddings, wedding receptions, and other special events.

In addition to the house, Heyens also purchased the nearly one-acre empty lot next door for garden weddings and outdoor events.

“The property actually used to be a parking lot but is now grass,” she said. “Because of that, it is flat and perfect for outdoor events or ceremonies. You can fit 200 people inside but almost as many as you want outside on the lawn.”

Heyens purchased the Merrimon-Wynne house and neighboring lot for almost $790,000 and estimates she’ll spend another $600,000 to $700,000 on renovations – including restoring woodwork, opening walls, and replacing glass and tile – and a planned addition on the back for caterers. The property also will undergo extensive landscaping including privacy hedges, trees, and a brick front path and gate. The target completion date is December 31.

The Merrimon-Wynne house is one of 25 existing houses that were to be part of Blount Street Commons. Original plans for the 21-acre project also called for building up to 495 condominiums, townhouses and single-family homes and up to 110,000 square feet of shops.

LNR planned to purchase the property from the state and implement its plan in four phases. By the end of 2008, the company had paid $10 million for the initial 12 acres for the project’s first two phases but requested an extension in purchasing the remaining nine acres.

A host of setbacks

Last November, the state Department of Administration agreed to let LNR out of its contract for the remaining property, in exchange for a $1 million fee and the $200,000 deposit LNR had put down. The state has not determined if it will keep that land or put it on the market. LNR representatives could not be reached for comment.

Blount Street Commons faced other setbacks. The first phase of the project is to include 75 homes – mostly townhouses and row houses as well as the restoration of several historic homes. Cary-based Vanguard Homes was set to develop part of the first phase, but Vanguard declared bankruptcy in March 2009. Live Oak Homes, the homebuilding arm of local developer GreenHawk, acquired Vanguard’s remaining land and unsold units out of bankruptcy but has not broken ground on any further developments.

One part of the project that may be moving forward this year is a half-acre parcel at the corner of Person and Peace streets, across from Krispy Kreme. LNR sold this property in 2008.

White Oak Properties originally expected to break ground in April on the first of three buildings in a 17-townhome project called Peace Street Townes. It now expects to break ground in mid-July. The company has eight of the Peace Street Townes townhomes either reserved or under contract, said Roland Gammon, owner of White Oak Properties. Prices range from $250,000 to $290,000. Peace Street Townes is located on the same block as the Merrimon-Wynne house.

“I met with all the local community associations before I began this process,” Heyens said. “I didn’t want to be here if the community didn’t want me or didn’t need me. And they were so responsive and so receptive to this project. I am excited about bringing people to this area of downtown Raleigh who have not been exposed to it.”