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Published: The News & Observer, April 30, 2002

Author:
Dudley Price; Staff Writer

Edition: Final
Section: Business
Page: D1

TTA could be the ticket

RALEIGH -- Architects of downtown Raleigh's rebirth have long considered the Dillon warehouse complex one of the cornerstones of their efforts. Trouble was, developers and the owners of the sprawling brick buildings couldn't agree on a price. But a decision last week by the Triangle Transit Authority to locate a rail station near the Dillon site on the west side of downtown could finally transform the nine acres of industrial warehouses into condominiums, shops and nightclubs.

"I can see hundreds of condos with retail around it," said Greg Hatem, a partner in Empire Properties, one of the downtown's largest developers. "You've got enough base down there to put in parking and wrap it with residential and retail.

"And because you're not in someone's back yard you won't get resistance about it going up."

Hatem tried to buy the warehouses six years ago, but he said the $7 million price was too high. By 2000, as the surrounding area was coming alive with restaurants and bars, Dillon's owners wanted $15 million, he said.

But TTA's offer will be different from those made by Hatem and other private developers who have bid for the property since it went on the market in the mid-1990s. The authority is a governmental unit with the power to condemn property it wants to purchase. In turn, TTA is required to relocate any business it buys.

Developers have coveted the Dillon site because, as one of the largest private tracts under single ownership in downtown, it is among the rare sites remaining for large-scale redevelopment.

Juanita Shearer-Swink, a TTA planner, said the authority expects to buy at least half of the Dillon property for its downtown transit station, and could end up buying the entire tract.

"We anticipate buying everything from the Martin Street viaduct building and west of West Street," she said of the deal she expects to be completed by the end of the year.

If the TTA buys the entire site, which is bounded by Martin and Harrington streets and the CSX and Southern railways, private developers might get another chance at some of the parcel. TTA would have the option of selling what it doesn't need or finding a developer for a partner.

TTA's purchase essentially was set last week when the transit authority board endorsed a design for the downtown station that would be built below the tangled railroad interchange known as the "wye" after the shape formed by the tracks. Trains would stop at a station near the intersection of West and Hargett streets, but the boarding platform would be below street level.

Transit planners had long thought they might have to buy some of the Dillon site for the station. But the station design selected last week requires more of the property. An alternative design that was not endorsed by the authority would have required only 50 feet of the Dillon site.

Shearer-Swink cautioned that the TTA still needs approval from the Federal Transit Administration to buy the property. Property acquisition for the 35-mile rail system linking Raleigh, Cary, Research Triangle Park and Durham will begin in the fall of this year and continue to the winter of 2003.

Dillon, which sells steel, forklifts and other industrial equipment, dates to 1914 when it was founded by C.A. Dillon. A French company, Descours & Cabaud, bought the company more than 20 years ago.

Shearer-Swink said that preliminary talks have been held with Dillon executives but that there has been no discussion of purchase price or even how much land might be bought.

Dean Wagner, Dillon's executive vice president, could not be reached for comment.

Shearer-Swink said TTA wants to buy roughly half the property. It includes about three acres bounded by the "wye" railroad tracks, which would be used for passenger parking and another two or three acres bounded by Martin and West streets and the CSX Railway, where the station would be built. A small tract owned by another landowner, P. Daniel Wilson Jr., at Hargett and West streets also would be purchased.

The land and buildings likely would be expensive. The entire Dillon site is valued at $4.6 million, according to county tax records. But the property has become even pricier now that developers have turned other nearby warehouses into offices and clubs.
Hatem said TTA could spin off approximately four acres, bounded by West, Martin, Harrington and Hargett streets, which it might buy but not need for the transit station. That would be an ideal site for residential towers that would complement other residential projects that have recently gone up nearby, he said.

Caption:
Dillon Supply Steel Service Center on West Street is part of a business dating back to 1914. The land's value has risen as developers turned nearby warehouses into offices and clubs.

Staff Photo By Jim Bounds

 
 
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