Published: The News & Observer, November 24, 1998
Hue Q. Ha; staff writer
West Side's Continuing Story
RALEIGH -- The development company that paved the way for Jillian's
Billiard Cafe, a thriving entertainment complex, is about to redevelop
another small block of the city's aged warehouse district.
Empire Properties has acquired four small buildings
and two parking lots on a block bounded by Commerce Place and West
Martin, Davie and South Harrington streets. The block is just east
of the sprawling, redbrick Dillon Supply Co. complex.
The new owners want to renovate and lease the buildings as office
space, retail and restaurant space, according to Reid Jones, a partner
in Mikels & Jones Properties, which managed the buildings for
about 10 years.
"They want to fix them up and find some longterm
tenants," Jones said.
The upstairs at 319 W. Martin Street has hardwood
floors "like a loft in San Francisco," Jones said. "It
will be neat as apartments."
Empire, a group of local investors, bought a nearby West Street
warehouse in 1996, renovating it and leasing the facility to the
Louisville, Ky.based Jillian's chain a year later. Empire's latest
acquisition cost $1.15 million, according to Wake County tax records.
The seller was Wachovia Bank, whose trust department managed the
estate of Nelle Renard Dorminy and Esther King, two former Raleigh
Wachovia decided to sell because "it was obvious that the market
was changing," Jones said.
Ten years ago, the buildings could be leased to a
warehouse user without much upgrading. But now, the properties around
the old warehouse buildings are gradually being converted into restaurants,
art galleries, shops and condominiums.
"There's not a lot that's not been touched,"
said Errol Frailey, president of the Downtown Raleigh Alliance,
a booster group.
The district's biggest piece of property is the exception. In downtown
development circles, the fate of the Dillon Supply buildings is
a favorite topic of speculation. Dillon, which sells industrial
equipment, occupies nearly nine acres of land and 300,000 square
feet of buildings.
The redevelopment of the Dillon complex has long been
seen as a key to the revival of the west side of Raleigh's downtown.
The property has been for sale since 1994, but the owner, a French
industrial company, Descours and Cabaud, wants any deal to include
new warehouse facilities for Dillon at another location.
Raleigh realestate consultant Eric Karnes predicted
that a deal would materialize for the Dillon site because of the
momentum in that area.
"A lot of people are interested in that property,
which is a natural for mixeduse development of office, entertainment,
retail and residential," Karnes said.
Photo: Empire plans to renovate its Martin Street
Staff photo by Chris Seward
Map; Tackling a block; Grey Blackwell