Wake County

NC finds buyers for houses in downtown Raleigh historic district

Acting state Secretary of Administration Kathryn Johnston stands in the hallway of the Cambridge House, built about 1902 on North Person Street. The house is under contract to be sold.
Acting state Secretary of Administration Kathryn Johnston stands in the hallway of the Cambridge House, built about 1902 on North Person Street. The house is under contract to be sold. rstradling@newsobserver.com

The state’s efforts to find buyers for several old houses in the Blount Street Historic District have gone well so far.

Eleven of 12 old houses the state put up for sale in recent months are under contract with new owners. With the exception of one house that has been condemned and will be demolished, the new owners plan to restore the homes and bring new life to a quiet part of downtown.

After years of neglect by the state, extensive restoration work will be needed to make the houses usable again. Still, the sales have come quickly since the state put the first two on the market last July.

“They’re great houses,” said John LaPenta, the deputy secretary for the state Department of Administration. “And it’s a great time for real estate.”

The state has offers totaling $6.1 million for the 11 houses. Prospective owners plan to turn at least two of the houses into law offices, but most will return to their original purpose, as single-family homes. All but two of the houses are selling for more than their appraised value, and four of them are fetching more than even the state’s asking price, a reflection of the interest in them.

“There’s a lot of people passionate about this kind of thing,” Tim Walton, the general real estate manager for the State Property Office, said as he stood behind a row of empty century-old houses with peeling paint on North Person Street. “All they wanted was an opportunity.”

The state began acquiring houses along North Blount and Person streets, north of the Executive Mansion, in the 1970s as part of a partially-realized plan to build parking lots for the nearby State Government Complex. Many of the houses that survived were used as offices by the state, and some being sold now contain remnants of those days, such as fluorescent light fixtures and brackets for fire extinguishers.

The Lamar House on North Person Street has sat empty since the state acquired it and still retains much of its century-old carved woodwork and a clamshell-shaped stained-glass window at the foot of the main stairway. It also has four doorbells that were installed after the house was divided into apartments.

The newest of the houses will be the only one demolished. The McGee House, a brick Tudor-revival home built on North Blount Street in the late 1940s, is being sold along with its Victorian neighbor, the Coble-Helms House, and will come down. Blue tarps now cover much of the McGee House where the roof has collapsed, leaving most of the inside in ruin.

The sale of the houses is part of Project Phoenix, Gov. Pat McCrory’s effort to make better use of state property around the state, and is a successor to an earlier effort by the state to sell off its property in the Blount Street Historic District. Starting in 2007, the state sold two blocks of houses and parking lots to developer LNR Property for Blount Street Commons, a plan to eventually restore or redevelop much of the state’s property in the historic district. Three of the houses recently sold on North Person Street were moved there by LNR to make room for new development.

The recession limited LNR’s work to the initial two blocks. Rather than selling the remaining properties to a single developer, the state put them on the market individually. The most valuable of the houses, the three-story Heck-Andrews mansion completed in 1870, is being bought by the N.C. Association of Realtors for $1.5 million.

Only the Heartt House remains unsold, at 421 N. Blount St. It’s a two-story Italianate mansion completed in 1879, with a Southern colonial portico added in 1928. Asking price: $800,000.

Richard Stradling: 919-829-4739, @RStradling