On one wall of the Durham office of Greg Hills’ Austin Lawrence Partners, eleven poster-sized renderings depict the owner’s plans for a denser and livelier downtown.
The keystone is One City Center, a planned twenty-seven-story tower that currently exists as a canyon surrounded by chain link and orange-and-white plastic traffic barriers. When the building opens in 2018, it will reshape not just downtown’s skyline but also its demographic profile. Along with office space (much of it leased by Duke), storefronts, and rental apartments, it will house thirty condominiums, some selling for more than $1 million.
Next door, Hills ’76 also is renovating the tumbledown Jack Tar Motel into a hotel that promises guest-room amenities like color therapy and dawn-simulation lighting. (Durhamites know the building because of former owner Ronnie Sturdivant’s belief that Durham’s ills could be solved if media entrepreneur Oprah Winfrey just noticed the city. “We want Oprah!!! Email Oprah,” Sturdivant posted in giant letters in the windows.) The new Unscripted Hotel will sport turquoise façade panels in keeping with its 1960s vintage. “It’ll be fun to add color to the palette of downtown,” Hills says.