Oct. 14--DURHAM -- It was once the tallest building in Durham and housed the nation's oldest Black-owned life insurance firm, dedicated to serving the insurance needs of the state's Black community.
Decades after it was built in the 1960s and changed ownership, the landmark N.C. Mutual office tower has a new owner after a New York City-based real estate investment firm bought it in a foreclosure auction.
Recently renovated and renamed the Tower at Mutual Plaza, it sold last week to Turnbridge Equities for $37.2 million, county records show. That was the amount of the loan balance defaulted on by 411 West Street Chapel Hill LLC, the investor group that owned it, the buyer said.
"We are obviously strong believers in the Triangle's resiliency," said Jason Davis, managing director of Turnbridge in a news release. "The local economy is uniquely well-positioned to weather any downturns with its mix of governmental, educational, and private employers, including Durham's thriving technology and life sciences sectors. We're excited to bring fresh capital to the Tower at Mutual Plaza to reinvigorate the building."
The 14-story tower on West Chapel Hill Street houses the 118-year-old N.C. Mutual insurance company, as well as office space for Duke University, Duke Health and the Department of Veterans Affairs. A global architecture firm, Perkins and Will, which helped design the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., recently moved into the building.
N.C. Mutual's presence in the building was reduced to one floor from six over the years after financial loss, allowing extra space for renovation for other tenants. The company is under financial rehabilitation by the state Department of Insurance as of last year.
Turnbridge Equities said in a news release that it plans to lease the remaining vacant space after an $11 million interior and exterior renovation by its previous owners preserved the building's original image.
The investment group that previously owned the building bought it in 2006 for $10.5 million, according to county records.
The N.C. Mutual building is the third recent acquisition by Turnbridge in the Triangle real estate market. The company plans to redevelop the historic Creamery building in Glenwood South in Raleigh into a high-rise; and to entirely redevelop Cary Towne Center into a massive mixed-use development.
"We've built upon all of our prior experience and in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Austin and tried to bring a similar level of quality in execution in the Raleigh-Durham market," said Andrew Joblon, founder and managing principal of Turnbridge. "The growth prospects in this region are some of the best in country."
The tower's previous ownership includes Michael Lemanski, a Durham real estate developer. Lemanski was director of the Development Finance Initiative at the University of North Carolina, a program to help communities develop rundown properties. But Lemanski's work resulted in conflicts of interest in which he benefited as a private developer from his public position, The News & Observer reported.
Lemanski received a contract from the City of Fayetteville for the development of the historic Prince Charles hotel. Two of his partners on the project were on his staff while he was director of DFI. However, that project has been stalled due to the pandemic, The Fayetteville Observer reported.
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