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Friday, June 3, 2011

When it rains, it pours: more leaks for Greenfire?

Posted by on Fri, Jun 3, 2011 at 6:23 PM

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Three weeks after the collapse of the roof at Liberty Warehouse on Rigsbee Avenue, two more properties controlled by Durham-based Greenfire Development could be under scrutiny for leaky roofs.

The city's building inspectors received a report Thursday about water leaks at two warehouses on Foster Street, said Rick Hester, assistant director of Durham Neighborhood Improvement Services. An inspector will be assigned next week to check out the claim that roofs at 609 Foster St. and 619/621 Foster St. are leaking when it rains.

By phone Friday, Greenfire Managing Partner Michael Lemanski said he was aware of minor leaks at the warehouses and didn't know Hester's department had received a complaint.

"We have water leaks. That's the constant battle with dilapidated buildings," Lemanski said, emphasizing that nearly all of the 30-some buildings Greenfire controls in downtown Durham were in various states of disrepair when the developer acquired them.

The news comes as Greenfire is managing both repairs at the Liberty Warehouse, and its reputation. With at least one million square feet of retail, office, warehouse and residential space in downtown, Greenfire has a firm grasp over the future of the way downtown Durham looks and feels, and whether it continues to prosper. The city and county have promised to invest more than City leaders have supported Greenfire's long-range redevelopment plans, which could call for more than $20 million in public funds over the next several years to come to fruition. The city has pledged $3.2 million in incentives and a $1 million loan to help the company tackle its $50 million redevelopment of the SunTrust bank building into a 160-room boutique hotel. The incentives would be payable over 15 years after the completion of the project.

Despite that vote of confidence from the city, Greenfire is also under pressure from the city, tenants and the public in the dramatic May 14 roof collapse to act quickly to repair Liberty Warehouse and redevelop its other historic properties.

Those holdings include 117 W. Parrish St., a property at the center of an ongoing dispute with the city's Neighborhood Improvement Services department. A Greenfire-related entity purchased the building after it was gutted by a fire and the structure has sat without a roof—or any covering—for more than six years, Hester said.

Stirred by tension with NIS, Lemanski said Friday he would invite scrutiny of all of Greenfire's properties instead of having the buildings picked apart by city code inspectors, who Lemanski said are dishing complaints about Greenfire-owned properties to the media before contacting the developer. Lemanski made the comment Friday evening and the Indy could not reach Hester for an immediate response.

"We're going to invite them to take a look at all of our properties at once," Lemanski said. "We think it will be more efficient."

Lemanski said tensions with the city's inspectors began last year in disagreements over the building at 117 W. Parrish St. The city has found the building unsafe and has recommended it be demolished. Last year, Greenfire challenged those findings via a letter from its engineer.

The city commissioned an independent report from a Raleigh-based engineer to determine whether the building is structurally sound, and that report is due next week.

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