North Pointe still seeking tenant to backfill for World Market
L.A. Boxing opens in Hope Valley Commons

Greenfire reveals drastically different design for Woolworth site at Corcoran/Parrish/Main

We alluded here last month to a striking new concept Greenfire was working on for the Woolworth site at Corcoran, Main and Parrish -- currently a large open grassy lot, and initially spec'ed out to be a tower to challenge for supremacy on Durham's admittedly-small skyline:

BCR was particularly struck by a concept that would put a slightly smaller building on the site -- keeping the Hill Bldg. as the centerpiece of the skyline -- but one that was designed to provide focused spaces for a Parrish St./Durham history museum and much more significant space for ground floor retail and pedestrian activity.

That includes better connectivity between Main St. and Parrish, as well as elements at the corner of Corcoran and Parrish that provide a surprisingly natural connection between the site and the CCB Plaza to its north, creating a really connected, holistic space that finally makes sense.

Well, Greenfire released artist's renderings of the building concept today, in advance of a July 7 hearing before the Historic Preservation Commission to allow alterations to a number of Greenfire-owned properties that would have to be modified to support this concept.

And while my architectural skill is best described as akin to how Justice Potter Stewart defined pornography -- in this case, I know what I like when I see it -- well, how can I put it?

Smart. Fresh. And a big improvement over the original concept. Here it is, as seen from roughly the Self-Help building site looking northeast:


The new design preserves much of the original streetscapes of Parrish and Main, tying them in to new street-level retail or activity fronting those streets and Corcoran, as seen in these renderings. At the same time, the creation of an internal connector between Parrish and Main both opens up more opportunities for retail and creates additional opportunities for activity on the street.

As is obvious from the design, the scale of the building is a bit smaller, and perhaps might be well-suited to corporate HQs for two or three mid-sized firms, as opposed to the "golden ring" skyline naming opportunity that the Durham Centre presented back in the day for the insurance company that once occupied it, or that the original Woolworth site design or Scientific's Van Alen projects represent.

The view from the CCB Plaza:


One advantage to the new design: it provides a more natural closing-off to the CCB Plaza, completing it on its southeast side -- while not overshadowing the historic Hill Building, still planned for Greenfire's boutique hotel and spa.

Look for the Parrish/Corcoran corner shown above, or a portion of the building along Parrish, to house a public entrance for the proposed Durham/Black Wall Street history museum.

The view down Parrish shows the effect of preserving the streetscape retail to a greater extent than would have happened in the original plan; Greenfire's partners described the challenges they saw in the original "big box" complex guillotining off most of the narrow streetscape retail pads on Parrish that are so attuned to the kind of small retail businesses and restaurants likely to do well in Durham.



Here's more from the Greenfire press release:

Greenfire Development is moving onto the next component in its City Center redevelopment plans in downtown Durham. For the past two years, Greenfire has been collaborating closely with its design team and has carefully considered input and feedback from the community, business leaders and downtown stakeholders. Greenfire is proceeding with the first step towards development of the first significant office structure built in the City Center in at least 20 years--119 W. Parrish Street.

The 119 W. Parrish Street office building will incorporate best practices for green design, innovative historic preservation and cutting edge building design to weave the new structure into the very heart of the city. Greenfire is proposing a combination of a new freestanding tower and the redevelopment of the historic retail corridors of W. Parrish and W. Main Streets. Greenfire?s plans call for reuse and reconstruction of existing structures in order to preserve the historically significant pedestrian fabric of the district.

Greenfire believes that its design for the 119 W. Parrish Street office building reintroduces density to the city core and will create a new energy and vibrancy in the City Center. Greenfire has applied for a Certificate of Appropriateness from the Historic Preservation Commission to modify properties that will be the future site of the building. The properties are 119 W. Parrish St., 122 W. Main St., 120 W. Main St., and 113 W. Parrish St. The Commission will review the application at its July 7, 2009 hearing. After the Commission reviews the plans and gives input, Greenfire can work towards submitting full plans to the Planning Department.

Rendering View 1
119 W. Parrish Street rendering with a view looking northeast from the corner of W. Main and Corcoran Streets. Greenfire Development's proposed office building restores the pedestrian retail experience along the street level, and creates an office structure above to attract the next generation of Durham creative class workers seeking the leading edge in the technological and sustainable work environments.

Rendering View 2
119 W. Parrish Street rendering with a view looking southeast from CCB Plaza. The main entrance to Greenfire's proposed office building will be on Parrish Street, one of the most historically significant areas in Durham. Situated across the street from Greenfire's planned hotel, the Parrish Street corridor will be reenergized.

Rendering View 3
119 W. Parrish Street rendering with a view looking east on Parrish Street. Greenfire will restore existing facades as part of the development of the proposed office building, and create new retail and office space to increase the density of the area.



Maybe I missed it, but who is the architect on this project, was this part of the press release? Looks very promising.

Joshua Allen

Not sure how I feel about the building overall, but I absolutely love how the building is integrated in to the smaller buildings along Parrish street in the 3rd picture. I also like the cantilevered floors overhanging Foster Street.


Way to break this story!

I'm not sure how I feel about the design of the building either. It looks good in the drawing, but no architectural rendering ever looks like it will in real life. I think it's a great idea to lower the scale and incorporate it better into the street. It seems like it'll naturally complement the DPAC too.

Major Taylor

Love the nod to Durham Critical Mass in that last rendering.


heh, is that a rooftop pool on the left?

Jeremy T

Hmm, it's not really working for me. The huge contrast between the old streetscape and the massive steel and glass structure towering above it just looks very awkward in these renderings.


Looks great to me!

Michael Bacon

There's always something about these artists renderings that turns me off. This might end up being a fine building -- I like DPAC a lot more than I thought I would -- but my initial reaction to these diagrams is basically, "ick."

For what it's worth, here's a question -- why do architects never seem to have any ability to imagine any other shape than a rectangle when constructing these gigantic walls of glass and steel? I suppose the construction costs are lower, but it just ends up making every one of these new glassy buildings look identical and repetitive. Bleh. Bleh bleh bleh.

Michael Bacon

Oh, and I love how the third rendering shows sun glare -- on the north wall.

Michael Bacon

Okay, I hate to post three comments in a row, but the more I look at this, the more I'm starting to worry about the architect. Not just the sun glare, but all of the shadows are going the wrong direction. Furthermore, there's a rooftop garden in the second diagram with trees that would spend most of the year in shade. And for the final kicker, that entire north-facing wall below the one that has the erroneous glare on it is flared out at the ends -- exactly like a number of new "green" buildings do, when they want to take advantage of solar lighting but not overload the AC system on the most SUN FACING WALL.

Did this architect get north and south confused? Because there's signs all over this thing that it's intended to take advantage of solar positioning and natural lighting and heating, except that the directions are all wrong.


Great job breaking this story Kevin!! I think the contrast with current street scape will only enhance downtown's coolness and uniqueness versus the rest of the Triangle...especially in the arts!


On the good side, the scale and massing is very promising. The pedestrian experience is all about appropriate horizontal scale. Lots of little storefronts, variation, etc.

Argue all you want about building height, orientation of the structure for solar/etc. The core issue for the successful urbanity that this site requires -- it is truly the heart of downtown Durham -- is the street level scale. And what is shown here is incredibly promising.


I absolutely LOVE the new design, especially how it incorporates the smaller, older storefronts along the street level. I like the main entrance focus towards the CCB plaza. Overall its a pedestrian-friendly welcoming design at street level. It complements the architecture of the DPAC quite well, so I assume the design firm is one we know well.

It's a smart move by Greenfire to adapt to the new reality, and for my friend who doesn't like rectangular boxes, that's what sells. You can't waste airspace unless you have a wealthy tenant sparing no expense to show off their ego. That idea died in 2008. This is a new economy and developers should expect to make a decent profit without all the nitpicking.


With regards to the latest architectural trends, at least there's no British aircraft carrier launching ramp we see in buildings like the RBC tower in Raleigh, or the one proposed for the Durham county courthouse that's fit for launching the Bat Jet.

Andrew Edmonds

It looks like the Mr Shoe building facade on Main Street is also retained, although the doorway is obscured by the sidewalk tree. The devil's in the details, but it appears that Greenfire was listening to the Historic Commission's concerns.

Bob the Builder

I'll support any plan that includes an outdoor basketball hoop on the 3rd floor. Mr Lemanski, go forth and build.

G Wolf

I didn't catch what, if any, commercial/retail space would be part of this. Another downtown restaurant or some shopping?


Much improved over previous concepts for this site. Very promising. Looks expensive to build, what are projected rental rate? Where's the parking?

Kevin Davis

Thanks, all, for the comments.

JLW: I had recalled in the original proposal a few hundred "VIP" parking spaces in the Parrish tower, but my memory could be wrong there. In respect to the latest proposal, I don't believe there'll be any on-site parking in the new design.

Frankly, I think that's a very good thing; the plan to draw parkers up from a rehabbed Chapel Hill St. deck and thereby add built-in customers for the new street-level retail is an excellent boost for Parrish St.

You know, I've cared about street-level energy for a while as an issue, but it was massively reinforced last week when I went to the Durham Center tower for a meeting. Arriving at the building, I had to wend my way through the parking deck, to an elevator, up to a lobby, then another elevator to my destination. Exiting, it was a hike down multiple flights of broken stairs to get back to the sidewalk.

If there's an example that Durham's learned something in the two decades since the Durham Center was built, it's this design.


Michael - It's not exactly the second photo there is a multi-cantilevered section that are off-center from each other. I think its neat yet cost-effective. It's not Frank Gehry or anything but it fits well.

It gets my vote...let's hope the finished product looks even better.


I think the solar orientation and shadows are just fine. Photo 1 has the new building looking to the northeast, so the long shadows facing northwest indicate an early morning sun shining from the southeast. The reflection/glare could be from the low sun angle, a bright cloud, or a reflection off of another building's windows. It's an artist's rendering, and it will change. Besides, such an image is meant to get people excited about big general issues, not specifics. I think the trees could work as well up there, depending on the species. There are plenty of big mature trees in very shady urban pockets throughout the downtown loop.

Michael Bacon

The more I look at it, the more I'm fine with the design -- y'all are convincing me. But, (I realize this may be a very minor point, but it's bugging the crap out of me) the solar orientation is not "just fine." If nothing else, in the third rendering, the second person from the right standing outside on the south side of Parrish St. (unless I'm horribly confused) has his shadow extending basically due south. This never happens in the northern hemisphere. And again, there are all sorts of design features, from the extended glass curtain wall to the green roof to the bumped-out section of wall in the third shot, that look like they're intended to face the sun but are facing north.

I could be wrong about the design features -- they're not labeled as solar-oriented. But I remain adamant that the solar orientation in the second and third shots are completely, 180 degrees wrong.

Mary Ann Cole

WOW! Great going Greenfire, it's so nice to see all the concern for downtown Durham.


Unlike previous symbolic renderings the set-backs and glass on the upper levels of this design will prevent the canyon feel so many people are concerned about. I find the design promising and look forward to their ideas for future sites.



Jeff P

Never concern yourself about nitpicky details in an architectural rendering (especially shadows), they are meant to highlight the building and make it look good to sell the concept. Who cares if a person's shadow is falling the wrong way? Does that mean that the architect and builder will build it facing the wrong way? Don't be so naive.

And rectangular boxes are popular because they maximize occupiable space on a lot, lower the skin-to-volume ratio to reduce costs, and help to define boundaries between the site and the street. Having curvy or angled walls like Gehry or Libeskind is ridiculously expensive, inefficient, unsypamthetic to most urban contexts (especially Durham's), and in many cases unattractive.

The south and west facades have window overhangs to block south and southwest sun, the western sun will be blocked by the building across the street.

As for the "flared" curtain wall in the third picture, don't worry, it'll most likely be value-engineered out of the design before construction. Same thing will probably happen to the luxury rooftop items.

I am very excited about this project, it's the best proposal I've seen for an urban site in awhile. They did a great job integrating the new building with the street and surrounding buildings. Chances are the actual building will undergo a fair number of changes, but let's hope they stick as close as possible to the renderings. And remember, they're marketing tools, not construction documents.


I agree with floyd. I love the design, just add a few more stories not rival the suntrust tower but for more of a presence. It doesn't look like it will be taller than the old mutual building.


The key points for a successful downtown development are all here:

- an in-fill building that manages to preserve and relate to the surrounding historical structures

- sufficient density to help this part of town feel as important as it should, given the central location

- street-level details on a human scale; you'll feel comfortable, not dwarfed, as you walk by

Kudos to the design team that worked on this concept! Let's hope Greenfire can bring it off...


Kevin -

I don't agree with your position that parking is best solved by overloading the east chapel hill street deck. In order for ECH to host sufficient parking for this building it would need to nearly double in size, not to mention that Greenfire would like to add commercial/residential too. That would make the ECH site completely disproportionate from the immediate neighborhood. Parking needs to be balanced across the city to encourage pedestrian traffic in all locations. East Chapel Hill St is a pedestrian corridor and requires appropriate sized developments along with pedestrian and street activated frontage (not parking lots).

There are several other locations that can absorb the burden of parking if onsite isn't viable. There a lots along Ramseur that can be utilized to support developments along Main St. Additionally, the notion that only VIP parking will be built either directly or indirectly with public incentive dollars is a bit distasteful. I'm sure there are individuals that would say the public funds aren't for this purpose but like it or not, if public dollars are offsetting other costs then indirectly they are supporting private "VIP" parking. Parking is a utility that needs to serve the public and enable the entire city to grow.

My strong preference is for the city to look at parking in general that addresses the overall master plan and not individual developments. The market will decide if parking either near or far from the building is vital to its success. I suspect it is very important to tenants, but I don't see this as the city's responsibility to solve one developers problem which has long existed.

The same issue will come up for the Hill Building (Sun Trust). The problem needs to be addressed city wide if public dollars are at play.

Kevin Davis

@Sean: I agree completely that there's benefit in having pedestrians walking to/from lots around Durham. I didn't mean to suggest that ECH would be the _sole_ parking option, though of course it would be a major one. I'll have to defer to Greenfire on the specifics of how much parking they're expecting at each location, though of course this was a hotly debated issue during the initial deal points.

In re VIP parking, just to clarify -- that on-site VIP parking isn't any longer part of the plan, though of course these drawings are preliminary. That said, I don't have a problem with such going into a City-subsidized project if the market demands it. The County and City paid for the ATC decks and yet between 8a-6p I can't park in a number of the prime spaces. Clearly those were demanded by tenants. In the end, I think the taxpayer cares about (or should care about) a project being successful and being cash flow positive to the city and the tax coffers, not whether VIP parking is provided in small numbers.


I'm not sure there is a comparison between the parking decks at ATC and those located in the city center. ATC is arguably a self sustaining project where as the requirements in the City Center need to serve a broader user base. The health of the city center depends on the tide rising evenly across the board otherwise we'll end up with pockets starved out and blighted. We do not want to become a single street city.

As a taxpayer, I care about the city's health not just a single projects success. Of course, each project should be successful within their own terms. When success is dependent on public assets then the question becomes much broader. In this case, success needs to be defined across all the impacted constituents.

Aside from ATC being a public/private partnership, the comparisons end there.

I would much rather have you defer to the City to determine how much parking is required across the area rather than asking Greenfire what their specific needs are. The City needs to be planning on a much broader and longer term basis than any one developer.

Blue Griffin

Meh. Reminds me of the sterility of downtown Fort Worth and Dallas skyscrapers in the '80s. If the shopfronts were more ornately Victorian in design, the tension between modern and antique might be more electric, as it ended up being in Fort Worth's downtown area (after the expansion of Sundance Square), but the simplicity of our facades just get trampled by this overbearing block. It looks like some corporate bug of a building just landed on top of downtown.

Will buy a few when they are dead


Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)