There is another reason I’m confident the Greenfire hotel conversion in Downtown Durham will be a success that wasn’t included in an earlier blog.
During stays in San Francisco in the mid and late 1980s, I witnessed the emergence of a creative genius and then little known, Midwesterner named Bill Kimpton.
Just five years earlier, he had begun transforming old downtown buildings in that city into small boutique hotels, pioneering that concept. His formula included a small restaurant just off the lobby with a separate entrance and name and a good chef with the potential to be a great chef.
In fact, Bill launched the careers of many chefs who are famous in that city and elsewhere. Bill passed away in the Spring of 2001, a little more than a decade after I first learned of his work. The hotel chain that bears his name has continued to expand and while in my opinion it has strayed somewhat from his formula, it’s still in the ballpark.
When he died, far too young at 65, he had launched, in just twenty years, 34 boutique hotels including 29 restaurants and he wasn’t really a hotelier or a restaurateur by trade. He was an IBM typewriter salesmen turned very successful investment banker.
He had a passion for bringing old buildings in downtown neighborhoods back to life and he was the first to put his finger on what a significant niche, now more a slice, of travelers want from lodging. He understood how to make old historic structures sustainable in a way that makes their surrounding environs and neighborhoods thrive.
What Bill did is being copied by numerous hotel chains. What managing partner Michael Lemanski and partners including Steve Mangano and Carl Webb at Greenfire Development are planning for conversion of the historic Durham Bank & Trust headquarters in the city center of Downtown Durham would make Bill proud.
That’s how I know it is a great investment and that lending them some of the very tax revenues their project will generate is a very wise investment by Durham officials.