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Old Building Needs Modern Safety

Old Building Needs Modern Safety

The News & Observer
July 23, 2003

Author: Dudley Price; Staff Writer
Edition: FinalSection: NewsPage: B3

Old Building Needs Modern Safety

RALEIGH -- The Commerce Building, one of downtown Raleigh's oldest office buildings, is for sale, but potential buyers are balking at its $3 million price tag.

The owner of the 79-year-old building at Hargett and Salisbury streets already has rejected six offers.

"They were substantially lower than the asking price," said Ben Kilgore IV, first vice president at CB Richard Ellis, the commercial real-estate firm that is selling the building for Carolina First Bank of Greenville, S.C.

The bidders apparently have been put off by a city mandate that by 2006 the old building be fitted with a new fire-control sprinkler system, which could cost as much as $400,000.

"It's in pretty decent shape," Kilgore said of the building. "The foyer was extensively redone within the last five years. The location near Wachovia Capital Center is a positive, and I can walk to any number of amenities: restaurants and, in particular, it's near the courthouse."

But the new owner probably wouldn't be able to quickly recoup the sprinkler cost because current lease rates of $11 to $12 per square foot are equal to rates for similar Class B space available nearby.

Developer Greg Hatem of Empire Properties, one of downtown's biggest landlords, said his offer of $1.55 million was rejected. He estimated the building would need $750,000 in renovations in addition to the sprinkler system.

"We'd love to buy the building and renovate it, but at a purchase price near $3 million it would be impossible to buy it and bring it up to current standards," Hatem said.

The current asking price for Commerce Place is $59.40 per square foot. By contrast, two years earlier, Hatem purchased the Alexander Building, a block away, for $53.60 per square foot.

The building was built in 1924 by the Odd Fellows Lodge, a fraternal and philanthropic group, which held meetings on the top floors and leased out the remaining space. The Odd Fellows sold the building in 1981, and the name was changed to the Commerce Building.
The bank bought the historic building for $2.47 million in February after lenders foreclosed on the previous owner, The Commerce Building LLC.

The tax value of the 50,508-square-foot building and its land is $2.95 million, according to Wake County real estate data. About 77 percent of the building is leased . On the ground floor is a restaurant, Est Est Est Trattoria. Upper floors house offices of The Charlotte Observer, Winston-Salem Journal and law firms such as Morgan & Reeves, Anderson & Anderson and attorney Earle R. Purser.

Copyright 2003 by The News & Observer Pub. Co.

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