Published: The News & Observer, June 14, 2000
Old spaces are suddenly hot places
Pioneer led the way in downtown revival
RALEIGH -- Downtown Raleigh doesn't have enough decrepit warehouses
to suit Greg Hatem.
A pioneer in redevelopment of the so-called warehouse district,
Hatem was one of the first people to see gold in the rundown buildings
south of Hillsborough Street just west of the Capitol.
"We like the old buildings. They have the charm of high ceilings
and big beams," said Hatem, whose company, Empire Properties,
has been renovating the venerable structures since 1996. "But
they're getting hard to find, and nobody's building them anymore."
Today, Hatem is the largest landlord in the warehouse district,
an 11-block area of industrial buildings bounded by Dawson and Cabarrus
streets and the Norfolk Southern Railway, which has become a choice
office location for some architects and designers, as well as shops
and new nightspots.
Since renovating an old warehouse on West Street four years ago
that now houses Jillian's Billiards Cafe, Hatem and his partners
have bought four more buildings on Martin Street. The four buildings
total 40,000 square feet and house two businesses, Dovetail Woodworks
and Barefoot Press.
The complex has been renamed Commerce Place, and most of the space
has been leased. Atlanta-based iXL, an Internet services company,
has leased 20,000 square feet, and another 3,500 square feet have
been leased by Raleigh Vineyard Group for a bar and restaurant.
Only 7,000 square feet remain unleased in the buildings, which are
undergoing a $600,000 renovation that will be completed in August.
Other recent purchases include a 24,000-square-foot warehouse off
Glenwood Avenue between Lane and North streets that the company
plans to convert into offices and restaurants, and 2.5 acres at
Capital Boulevard and Fairview Road where it may build a new office
building that looks like an old building in the warehouse district.
Partners include his brother, Wilmington doctor Joe Hatem, and SAS
programmer Bucky Ransdell. Hatem said he'd like to buy even more
property, but few buildings are vacant or for sale.
That's a big change from just five years ago, when few people saw
much opportunity in the district and run-down buildings were available.
Hatem grew up in Roanoke Rapids but moved to Raleigh to study chemical
engineering at N.C. State University.
After graduation in 1985, Hatem worked as a photographer, fund-raiser,
financial planner and economic developer. During that time he also
saw how new shops, restaurants, bars and offices were moving into
the area north of Hillsborough Street now known as Glenwood South.
Hatem said the partners figured it was just a matter of time before
the redevelopment spilled over into the warehouse district.
"We had an appreciation of old buildings, and we could sense
it was about to turn," said Hatem, 39. "We stuck our necks
They bought an old Coca-Cola warehouse with 11,000 square feet of
space on West Street for $330,000. But it took a year to find the
current tenant, Jillian's.
"We were getting a little nervous," said Hatem, who heads
his company's development efforts.
But the success - and profits - convinced the partners to invest
further in the area. Hatem said he's discovered a niche market converting
space for companies and professionals with a fondness for old structures.
That's why the partners are plowing their profits into more buildings
- when they can find them.
"We just want to put these buildings in the hands of the people
who appreciate them," Hatem said. "And we know in the
long run the money will be there."