Author: Dudley Price; Staff Writer
Edition: FinalSection: BusinessPage: D1
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 out."
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."
Copyright 2000 by The News & Observer Pub. Co.
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