By Mia Khatib
DURHAM — The out-of-town developers that bought Heritage Square asked Durhamites what they want to see on the 10-acre site and shared their own ideas at a community meeting Wednesday. But nothing is set in stone, and they will return around summer with more details, Sterling Bay and Acram Group representatives said.
“We understand that this community, in particular, has had a very storied past with development, and so that is something that we're mindful of and sensitive to. We really are approaching this from the standpoint of ‘how can we collaborate?’” Sterling Bay Chief Diversity and Engagement Officer Keiana Barrett said.
The group paid $62.5 million for the space in historic Hayti and plan to transform the shopping center into a mixed-use development with rental units, offices, retail space, and a life sciences building. Sterling Bay has a history of including life sciences facilities in its developments and Suzet McKinney, director of life sciences, said this will give local students a space to grow and potentially commercialize their discoveries outside university laboratories.
“We've seen students grow their companies and then sell to a major pharmaceutical firm or health care institution [and] make millions of dollars,” she said.
Aaron Lazovik, Acram Group acquisitions managing director, said the site will not be rezoned, and the decade-long project will be spread across three phases and include roughly five buildings, which may be up to 12 stories.
Parry added that construction will begin early 2024 with the first building completed toward the end of 2026, but details are all subject to change. “This is still very kind of conditional, early stages,” he said.
Resident Jarvis Martin asked if paid internships will be available for students and if local residents can invest in the project. “We look at downtown Durham, and we’re all proud and appreciate what has been done,” he said, “but from an ownership standpoint, we probably own less today than we did 30, 40 years ago.”
Barrett said Sterling Bay partners with HBCUs and offers six-week paid internships and can extend this to North Carolina Central University students as well. And while creating generational wealth is a project priority, Lazovik said they intend to accomplish this by partnering with local retail businesses.
“At this point, we don't have capacity for individual investors relative to our institutional partner, but we will encourage other ways to partner and create that generational wealth,” he said.
Business owner Denise Hester asked if a traffic impact analysis has been conducted and what safety features will go into developing a site with life sciences and lab spaces.
McKinney said safety standards and regulations vary across cities and states, but they won’t necessarily impose on construction. Instead, she said, they influence the types of materials that enter the building and how high up within a building certain products and chemicals can go.
“But for us as a developer, in all of our projects, we implement the highest level of health and wellness and safety standards within our buildings,” she said.
Rakeem Chambers, a member of Durham’s Historic Preservation Commission, asked if local business owners can participate in the development through construction.
Barrett confirmed that there will be a teaming agreement with a local African American general contractor and asked the community for recommendations on firms to consider for those opportunities. No construction budget has been set, but Lazovik said the project will cost around half a billion dollars.
Resident Faye Calhoun encouraged the developers to preserve the historic character of Heritage Square and the Hayti community, use historic building materials, and contribute to the development of an archway that points to Hayti off N.C. Highway 147.
“What I don’t want is it looking like a spaceship landed in our neighborhood,” she said.
Barrett said Sterling Bay did something similar in Chicago’s Englewood community and will entertain replicating it for Durham. Lazovik added that the design team is intent on ensuring the development “fits within the fabric of Durham.”
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