Developer Nish Evans plans to demolish a downtown Durham building and replace it with a 12-story tower, records show.
The Historic Preservation Commission unanimously granted Evans’ request this month because although the building is around a century old, it has been so dramatically altered that it is no longer thought to contribute to the district’s historic character.
The building, at 216 Rigsbee Ave., is just south of the city’s Morgan-Rigsbee parking garage and opposite the U.S. Post Office.
Like the post office, it was thought to be constructed in the 1930s, though a precise date is hard to pin down.
Significant renovations occurred the 1960s when the building became William Piatt’s engineering firm office, according to architect Ellen Weinstein, who is working with Evans on the new project.
“I’m excited about my third project in the historic downtown corridor of Durham,” Evans wrote in an email earlier this summer, when the plans were put on the Historic Preservation Commission’s agenda.
Evans’ company also owns two historic low-rise buildings downtown, 112 W. Main St. and 310 E. Main St.
Neighboring condo association objected
Evans’ request met resistance from Preservation Durham and the condo owners next door.
The Eleanor Condominium Owners Association delayed the hearing for several months by objecting to it being held virtually, and at an in-person meeting Sept. 6, president John Warasila sought another year’s delay, citing concerns about the demolition’s effect on a wall shared by the two buildings.
Senior Deputy City Attorney Don O’Toole said the city would permit and monitor demolition work.
“If this construction does damage to the Eleanor building, these folks are going to be in a lot of trouble,” O’Toole assured him.
The Eleanor was built pre-1919 and remains a historic structure, according to the city’s preservation plan.
Evans will have to return to the Historic Preservation Commission to get approval for what will ultimately be built on the site after demolition. They’re required to plant grass if there’s a delay on construction.
“The intent is that structurally, the new building is independent of its neighbor,” Weinstein said.
Plans submitted in May show a 12-story mixed-use building, although Evans said this summer her team was “navigating a few moving parts.”
She did not reply to messages Friday.
Property was home to TROSA for over two decades
Evans paid $1.4 million for the Rigsbee property one year ago, property records show. It was assessed at over $1.6 million.
For over 20 years, the building was home to TROSA (Triangle Residential Options for Substance Abusers), a nonprofit that helps people fighting addiction.
It housed female residents in a multi-year recovery program, TROSA spokesperson Kristin Pearson told The News & Observer.
It had only an alleyway for outdoor space and residents would regularly commute to the main campus on James Street in Tuscaloosa-Lakewood, so when TROSA finally outgrew the building, they built their new women’s housing on James Street instead.
“Connection and community are vitally important for TROSA and are the key components for rebuilding healthy lives and maintaining recovery,” Pearson said.
This story was originally published September 16, 2022 2:50 PM.
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