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Commissioners up for Greenfire parking

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Durham County Commissioners gave a warm reception Monday night to Greenfire Development's request that it build a $7.54 million parking deck to support Greenfire's redevelopment projects in downtown Durham.

The commissioners took no action, but praised the idea as a means of reviving the inner city.

"It looks like a true win-win," commissioner Lewis Cheek said, after Greenfire principals Michael Lemanski and Carl Webb, and assistant county manager Carolyn Titus, presented a deal anticipated to bring the county about $5 million annually in new property taxes.

The deck would be built on the present surface lot north of the county Judicial Building, and accommodate about 320 vehicles. The county investment would be contingent upon Greenfire's completing four of its own projects, totaling an estimated $94.8 million.

Those projects include a 264,000-square foot commercial building on the former Woolworth's site at 119 W. Parrish St. and a 22,440-square foot "wrapper" building around a new city-built parking garage on Chapel Hill Street.

Greenfire would be further obligated to enclose the proposed county parking deck with a retail and residential wrapper.

"All design would be subject to the county's approval," Titus said.

Earlier this year, the City of Durham agreed to assist Greenfire in a 13-property, $284-million makeover inside the downtown Loop. In the past few years, the company has bought more than 25 properties in and near downtown Durham, including the landmark Hill (former Suntrust) and N.C. Mutual buildings.

"We're going to have to park some folks," Lemanski said.

Greenfire also has converted the Kress and Baldwin retail-office buildings on Main Street into condominiums and apartments, and is presently finishing renovation of a block on Mangum Street that includes the Roger Drug building and old Firehouse No. 1.

The proposal heard Monday includes several other clauses to protect the county's interest, including its right to evening and weekend revenue from the parking deck, use of spaces for county business and provisions to ensure its costs do not exceed those projected.

Commissioner Phil Cousins called the proposal "a signature opportunity to [establish] Durham as being head and shoulders above the counties around it."

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About the blogger

Jim Wise is a Durham News/N&O reporter and columnist who follows city and county government land-use and neighborhood issues. He's author of "Durham: A Bull City Story" and "Durham Tales: The Morris Street Maple, the Plastic Cow, the Durham Day That Was and More ... "