Research development

New research development plan at vacant Durham Shopping Center

The investors who bought Northgate Mall abandoned their initial plans for a mixed-use project in favor of a life sciences-focused research campus.

Northwood Retail revealed a new site plan during a virtual meeting Thursday evening, drawing scrutiny from residents who opposed the elimination of housing from the plan.

“We do not envisage any residence in the project”, admitted the lawyer Patrick Byker at the beginning of the session of questions and answers.

Northwood’s vice president of leasing, Jonathan Stewart, said with building cost inflation they could no longer commit to the vision proposed in 2018 for a pedestrian center that blends retail, office and residential.

“Really, it’s all about the economy,” Stewart said of the decision to pivot.

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In a virtual meeting on August 25, 2022, a new plan was proposed for the redevelopment of Northgate Mall in Durham. Northwood Retail said it would renovate the main mall with retail and office space, build a one-acre park and demolish the Sears Auto building for additional parking.

In new plans for the 55-acre property, the mall would largely remain standing, though the old Sears Auto Center would collapse, along with parts of the mall connected to the old Macy’s department store.

Duke University owns the Macy’s wing. They paid $4.5 million for the former department store in 2017 with plans to turn it into offices and medical clinics.

“What we are looking at is a major refresh of the interior and exterior. The mall structure would be completely gutted,” Stewart explained on the call.

A one-acre park would surround the building, and restaurants and bars could be built along the western edge.

They plan to renovate the Guess Road stores that now house Planet Fitness, C&H Cafeteria and a handful of other tenants, leaving them as retail.

The demands of community associations are not met

The Walltown Community Association rallied residents to attend Thursday’s virtual meeting.

“Let the developers know that you will not support any rezoning on the site until the developer meets their obligations to the community,” they emailed.

The association has engaged hundreds of residents since 2018 to craft their own vision for redevelopment, calling for affordable housing, a grocery store, community space, green space connecting Walltown Park across Guess Road and better storm water management infrastructure to control flooding along Guess Road. Ellerbee Creek.

Dozens of questions poured in from attendees Thursday night, but only those answered by the developers were visible to the public.

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Northwood Investors, a private equity firm, bought Northgate Mall in Durham. Herald-Sun 2017 File Photo

Stewart said they hoped to be good neighbors.

“Change is difficult. Change is hard on everyone,” Byker added. “There is a natural fear of the unknown and we appreciate that. All I can tell you is that the contribution to this call has been very valuable and we look forward to developing it.

Northwood bought the mall for $34.5 million in 2018 after deciding to grab it earlier that year.

The mall has been on Club Boulevard just south of Interstate 85 since the 1960s. After years of bleeding tenants, the mall finally closed in May 2020.

Duke University takes over space from the former Macy’s at Northgate Mall. The department store closed earlier this year as part of a larger store closure by the chain. Bernard Thomas

Byker said they plan to apply for a rezoning of their current “shopping center” designation to a “general commercial” category to accommodate the new vision.

“The commercial general will allow us to build or renovate the mall and convert it into a life science research and development campus,” Byker said.

This request – which has not yet been filed – would be subject to the approval of the Planning Commission and the City Council. Byker estimated that two years could pass before any construction could begin.

Stewart said they intended to put a grocery store there, but couldn’t guarantee that would happen.

“We don’t ultimately control it, so there’s no way to engage with it,” Stewart said.

This story was originally published August 25, 2022 9:07 p.m.

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Mary Helen Moore covers Durham for The News & Observer. She grew up in eastern North Carolina and attended UNC-Chapel Hill before spending several years working at newspapers in Florida. Outside of work, you might find her riding her bike, reading, or tending to plants.