Durham is considering an unsolicited $5 million offer for one of its downtown parking decks from a developer who wants to build the city’s tallest building on the land, but the City Council reacted with skepticism to the proposal Thursday.
“We don’t really need $5 million. We do need affordable housing,” Council member DeDreana Freeman told executives of the firm during a work session in City Hall.
Craig Davis Properties, a Triangle-based development firm, hopes to replace half of the Durham Centre parking garage with The James, a 32-floor skyscraper with 308 market-rate apartments, parking and ground-floor retail.
“We’ll find a way to make this happen,” Craig Davis told The News & Observer after Thursday’s meeting.
“Growth sometimes is painful and sometimes you have to go through a number of iterations to make sure that everybody’s listened to and heard and handled properly. We tried to do that. I think we’re right on the cusp of it. There might be some tweaks that we have to deal with. But I know down deep in everybody’s heart that they want this project.”
The presentation was the council’s first glimpse at the project, which has been five years in the making. No votes were taken, and Davis said they would rework the proposal to earn Council’s approval.
The Durham Centre deck is north of Morgan Street between Foster and Morris streets. The 719-space garage was built in 1987 and is owned and operated by the city.
About half of its spaces are located below a privately owned office tower. That eastern half of the deck is not included in the redevelopment proposal.
Durham Centre parking deck is split in two
The $5 million purchase offer is contingent on a redevelopment agreement for the western half of the deck, said Earl Guill, the company’s vice president of development.
In the proposal for The James, public parking at Durham Centre would be reduced to 82 spaces available 24/7, plus the 300 spaces under the office building that are open to the public on nights and weekends.
Though the city owns the deck, the developers own the air rights above it. Deputy City Attorney Fred Lamar said the deal was struck in the 1980s.
“The original concept and development agreement was there would be two towers identical to each other,” Lamar explained.
That plan is no longer in the cards.
“We try not to go backwards,” Guill said.
Could downtown Durham get its tallest building yet?
One City Center, the tallest building in Durham that’s a few blocks away, is 27 stories. Two other 27-story towers are under construction or planned.
The downtown core has a 300-foot height limit, so builders must seek out a variance if they wish to go taller. The James would be 320 feet tall.
Much of the Council’s skepticism Thursday centered around whether downtown needs another high-dollar apartment building.
The company offered to donate $650,000 to the dedicated affordable housing fund, equivalent to six affordable housing units, but did not offer to make any apartments affordable in the building itself, even after pressure from Council member Jillian Johnson.
“We certainly looked at it,” Guill said. “For us, from an economic standpoint, it’s more advantageous for us to offer a contribution to the fund. It would be difficult for us to make it work if we build the level of housing we intend to build.”
Mayor Pro Tem Mark-Anthony Middleton, however, called the proposal a “very intriguing offer.”
“I think we sometimes we congratulate ourselves and pat ourselves on the back for putting affordable units downtown, but if you have an affordable unit downtown and the person living there can’t afford to shop downtown or eat downtown or buy a ticket at DPAC (Durham Performing Arts Center),” he said. “Then that victory lap is short-lived.”
This story was originally published September 8, 2022 9:54 PM.
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