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Duke Studio Condos: Officially done and over?

Since the early days of BCR, we've followed the ups and downs -- seemingly, mostly downs -- of the Duke Studio Condominiums project at 600 Williard St., a proposed conversion of the old Crown Park Hotel to for-sale condo units. And, to be fair, there's been some healthy skepticism on this observer's part as to whether there would be demand for this type of condo property, or whether this was actually a good thing for downtown Durham.

Back in March, we reported here that the project appeared to be on hold with a possibly questionable future, given the folding of the project web site and the sign advertising the units having been covered up. At the time, we speculated that this project could be a no-go.

In late April, the Herald-Sun ran an interview with project developer Franklin Wittenberg in which he stated that the issue here was The Berman Group being unable to fund the project, and that he was planning to resume the effort under a new lender. And, heck, he was planning to double-up the condo project while he was at it:

Wittenberg, the force behind the Durham Centre office building downtown, said the previous lender, a Florida company, got caught up in the overbuilt condo scene in the Sunshine State and couldn't keep financing the Durham project. "It's a very odd situation," Wittenberg said. "You hear of developers failing, but not lenders."

But presales for the Duke Studio project were strong enough to convince Wittenberg to continue. "We mothballed the project and are seeking a new lender and we'll kick this off again," he said. The Durham developer said he refunded deposits put down by dozens of folks who reserved condos.

The project, which Wittenberg estimated at $12 to $15 million, calls for a former hotel to be converted into 159 one- and two-bedroom condominiums, which were previously priced from $74,500 for studios up to $214,500 for two-bedroom units. The property sits just south of the N.C. Mutual Building.

Wittenberg said the response to the project was good enough for him to move ahead with plans to add another 181 units in a separate, adjoining building. The 181-unit building will be new construction, he said.

That's been the last in-the-press discussion on the project that we've seen. So, what's happening with the project now?

There's a new sign posted on the inside of the old Crown Park Hotel -- not from Wittenberg, but from the folks at The Berman Group, stating that the plan to convert the hotel to condos had been canceled, and that the hotel property was for sale. Interested persons are invited to contact one [email protected].

This jives with the current property owner of record, one DB Durham LLC, a Fla.-based holding company with an address at or close to The Berman Group's property.

Does this mean the project's dead? We haven't contacted Wittenberg for comment, but based on the Berman Group's sign and their apparent continued control of the property, it doesn't appear that there's much movement forward on the effort.

Interestingly, with the City trying to sell a prime development lot by the Durham Station transit project for $900,000 -- a lot not encumbered by an aged hotel that would best be replaced/rebuilt, not remodeled -- one has to wonder what the actual market value of the Crown Park Hotel site is these days.

More word on this when we hear it.



It seems that Mr. Wittenburg's ego is once again much larger than his ability to execute a good project for Durham. The luster of the Durham Center Building which he touts time after time, has been worn off for years. This particular property is one of the least desireable "modern" buildings in the downtown Durham office building landscape.

As for the Crown Plaza/Duke Studio Apartment building with its location at the entrance to downtown Durham, at the Duke St exit, please replace it. The building in my opinion is out of scale for that location, and no matter how fancy you dress it up, it's caliber is quite pedestrian compared to the quality of the nearby ATC project nearby.

So, Mr. Goodman or someone with deep pockets and taste, please find a way to acquire this property, and either remove the building, or put something there that compliments the quality of the new downtown Durham. As much as I am a preservationist, I can't figure out how to make this building something desireable. If it was smaller, and had a little less 1972ish looking permanent style, I'd say find a way to adaptively reuse it; however I never thought the Duke Studio Apts. idea was a good one.



I wish Blazer were around to comment on this. Maybe the folks behind West at North can create North at West? Durham could use its own "Pardon Me For Living" property. Right now, the Duke Studio building, like AMS said, says "Pardon Me For Living in 1972".

(Recalling Blazer's memorable post -- )

Yurlinda Higginbotham

If it must stay, then Durham needs to acquire it and turn it into Oldham Towers North, where the more able-bodied, lower income elders could walk to transportation and American Tobacco and such.


I'm in the NC Mutual building, with a nice view into the Duke Studio Condos parking lot. Just noticed many new additions to the lot: shipping/storage containers, construction equipment, and materials. These things may be overflow from the construction site nearby (corner of Willard and Jackson), but with so much of it nestled next to the building, I wonder if they foretell action at the Duke Studio Condo site.

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