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Lifestyle Hospitality to Convert 17-story Bank Building in
 Downtown Durham, North Carolina  Into High-end Hotel
By Bill Stagg, The Herald-Sun, Durham, N.C.McClatchy-Tribune Business News

Mar. 15, 2007 - DURHAM -- The venerable downtown Durham landmark many still call the CCB Building will be redeveloped into a 110-room boutique hotel.

Durham-based Greenfire Development announced Wednesday that it is teaming with Connecticut-based Lifestyle Hospitality to convert the 17-story bank building at 111 Corcoran St. -- which now bears the SunTrust logo and historically is known as the Hill Building -- into the high-end hotel.

Greenfire managing partner Michael Lemanski said the project would cost between $30 million and $35 million and is scheduled for completion in 2009.

"Durham is ripe for this type of hotel," Lemanski said. "With our planned office tower across the street, the new Performing Arts Center [under construction on nearby Mangum Street near the Durham Bulls ballpark], and the many other developments happening downtown, this was the right time to bring a second hotel into the city center."

The other is the Durham Marriott at the Civic Center, barely a block north at East Chapel Hill and Foster streets.

Reyn Bowman, head of the Durham Convention & Visitors Bureau, agreed with Lemanski.

Bowman called downtown -- four miles from Research Triangle Park, two miles from Duke and one mile from both N.C. Central University and Durham Technical Community College -- "a perfect location" for a hotel.

That's especially true because of the city center's entertainment districts and festivals, sports events and performances, he said.

And while Durham has more than the typical number of guest rooms for a destination its size, it has had only one-fourth to one-third as many within a mile of city center, he said.

"So this is big for a number of reasons," Bowman said of the Greenfire plan.

Greenfire officials said the hotel will have penthouse condominiums and a restaurant as well as "state of the art" services and spa offerings.

"This concept fits really well with the type of companies we're attracting -- the innovative, creative class," Lemanski said. "We expect it to be a destination hotel for people coming to the Performing Arts Center or to performances at Duke, who want to stay here and be able to walk to all of downtown's amenities."

Lifestyle Hospitality, which will operate the four-diamond-level hotel, has guided several well-known brands, including Kimpton Hotels, W Hotels and Loews Hotels and Resorts, Greenfire officials said.

"Currently, the boutique hotel genre is the fastest growing segment in the hotel industry," said Lifestyle Hospitality CEO and Principal Steve Marx. "We chose Durham because of its energy and the opportunity to locate the hotel in this gorgeous building."

Lifestyle Hospitality's Web site says the company seeks "affluent and growing secondary markets that are primarily 'drive-to' rather than 'fly-to' destinations."

The site mentions a Durham project, but offers no specifics. It names other cities that fit the firm's target profile, including Richmond, Raleigh, Nashville, Phoenix, Reno, St. Louis and Jacksonville.

The Hill Building hotel will overlook a new public plaza on the site of the old Washington Duke/Durham Hotel/Jack Tar Hotel that was demolished in 1975 and a planned new tower at the former Woolworth's site.

It could be the first hotel to be LEED certified in North Carolina, Greenfire officials said. The goal is at least a silver rating, they said.

LEED -- for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) -- is a "green" building rating system based on five areas of human and environmental health: sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection and indoor environmental quality.

The Hill Building, built in 1937, was designed by the same firm that designed the Empire State Building. It most recently was the regional headquarters for SunTrust Bank. Greenfire bought the building last year for $4.1 million.

The bank maintains a retail bank branch and commercial and mortgage lending operations in lower floors. The SunTrust sign atop the building will remain in place.

Greenfire Development has been active in downtown development efforts. It has acquired 23 properties with investments totaling $45 million -- including the $10.5 million December purchase of another center city landmark, the N.C. Mutual Life Insurance Building.

Greenfire officials have said the 18-employee firm plans to invest $150 million in downtown over the next five to seven years.

Earlier, another local developer was planning to put a 70-room boutique hotel along West Main Street near Buchanan Boulevard in Trinity Park.

But those plans have evolved into a 100-suite extended-stay hotel that would incorporate the historic, 81-year-old former McPherson Hospital building.


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Copyright (c) 2007, The Herald-Sun, Durham, N.C.

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