We here at BCR referred recently to Scientific Properties' plans to build a series of high-rises on the Elkins (now Johnson) Chrysler site just south of the county's Justice Center site. Scientific bought that property back in ought-seven amidst the last few years' general land grab around the city's core.
Little has been said about the project -- save for Scientific head Andy Rothschild's pronouncement about it during his State of Things radio interview, and a cryptic statement on the developer's web site:
With architecturally stunning, environmentally sustainable LEED-certified high-rise office towers, a full-service hotel, corporate conference facilities, luxury residences and a unique assortment of restaurants and boutique retail offerings, Mangum Street will offer tenants and visitors alike a virtually unrivalled combination of extraordinary functionality, environmental responsibility and sophisticated amenities. Defining the new downtown Durham skyline and visible for miles around, the Mangum Street high-rise towers will directly overlook the Durham Bulls Athletic Park and the new Durham Performing Arts Center, and provide dramatic views reaching across the entire Triangle region. Development to begin Spring 2009.
After a very slight bit of slooping, we've got a bit (and only a bit) more detail on the project. The real estate listings database LoopNet has a recent entry about the project, known cryptically as "Van Alen," with a matching description to the above and a couple of first-look renderings:
The intriguing choice of name is in part a clever reference to one William Van Alen, according to Scientific head Andy Rothschild. Van Alen happens to have been the architect behind the Chrysler Building in New York. (Build towers on the site of a Chrysler dealership and name the project after the Chrysler Building? Get it?)
Still, the project comes amidst tough times for developers, including a difficult real estate market, and raises the multi-million dollar question for downtown: where will growth occur?
Note the ballpark and Diamond View I/II complexes just to the left of the highlighted project site. Not shown here is the courthouse, which would sit just north of the site on the flip side of Dillard St.
"From our perspective, it's a unique site for downtown," said Rothschild. "You couldn't ask for a more visible site that's more central to everything happening around us."
According to the LoopNet data, the entire project would represent a whopping 1.5 million square feet of development on just over six acres of space, right alongside the Durham Freeway. One of the buildings is listed at 500,000 sq. ft. and likely represents the largest tower planned for the site. Two more towers incorporating office space, a "boutique hotel," residences, retail and civic uses are listed for the site.
Rothschild noted that the three-tower design -- one of several approaches currently under consideration -- gives the developer flexibility in the amount of residential space versus office space to offer in the new complex. Though current plans call for two office towers and a third mixed hotel/residential structure, Rothschild noted that the mix of uses within buildings could flex based on perceived demand during the development phase.
Here's a very, very conceptual view of the massing along Dillard:
Scientific wants to create a signature addition to the Durham skyline with the project, and to that end, the choice of Van Alen as a name was more than a mere witticism referring to the site's current car dealership use. "The Chrysler Building [Van Alen designed] was emblematic of a time of races to the sky in downtown Manhattan. It's aspiring to that level of design."
While Rothschild was explicitly making a connection to the latter portion of meaning -- a reference to the desired design quality -- to this observer, the reference to New York's skyscraper races is also very apt for the impact that this project could have relative to Greenfire's own downtown development plans.
By buying an old car dealership that represents a suboptimal use of downtown land, Scientific has gained site control on a parcel large enough to support a project 50% larger than all of Greenfire's plans for the City Center district downtown.
Whereas Greenfire's stuck with the really much harder job of piecing together multiple parcels, creating parking and pedestrian connections between them, and having unrelated stakeholders interspersed between their sites, Scientific can big the big ol' towers along the freeway in a much less-expensive straight shot.
Of course, there's likely a strategic reason for Scientific's redevelopment plan, too. Greenfire is looking to attract a major tenant to a corporate headquarters site downtown for its skyscraper plan.
All things considered, though, Scientific should have an easier time staging and executing the construction on its parcel, a less-complicated slice of land where construction logistics and tenant parking are easier to execute. Greenfire must wait for the Chapel Hill St. deck to be done in order to have enough spaces to cover the tenants in its building. Scientific's only constraint is getting Johnson Automotive off the site and down to its new home, planned for the Southpoint Auto Mall last time we heard.
All of which gives Scientific a card to play when going after prospective tenants, since no project like this will get built -- especially in these economic times -- without a significant pre-lease component.
(Rothschild in particular noted the challenges of the debt market, referring to the difficulties developers of all shapes and sizes are having borrowing money. The Scientific chief noted that Johnson should relocate their dealership sometime in 2009, and that construction could begin shortly thereafter, but that this project's near-term viability is dependent upon the ability of the firm to find a lender's contribution to pair with existing equity stakes in the project.)
At the same time, this proposal is at the heart of the matter where downtown's growth will come. Once stagnant, the district surrounding the American Tobacco Campus has taken off like a rocket in the past decade, with the 1990s ballpark being surrounded by new office development at Diamond View, the renovation of the ATC itself, the performing arts center, the new courthouse, and the Venable Center renovations by Scientific Properties.
Of course, all of downtown -- from the freeway to the DAP, from Brightleaf Square to Golden Belt -- will, eventually, be redeveloped. The question is, when. American Tobacco owned the first million square feet of leasable space. West Village looks to be close on the heels with residential lease-up. Three other parties -- Greenfire, Scientific Properties, and the loosely-clustered property owners involved in the DAP-area planning -- are each competing to be the first to bring the next million square feet on line.
With the Van Alen planning, Scientific has a chance to bump itself up a bit in line. (Though we're also mighty curious to see what Hank Scherich has in mind for that full-block just west of the farmer's market....)