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Mangum506 Condos in Durham

by Jay on August 5, 2010

I taught high school English for several years after college and always emphasized writing.  The best and worst from student writing assignments I would dissect and discuss in class.  Once I got a poem I was particularly impressed with. I remember who the author was, Vic Dorr, who is now a sports reporter for the Richmond Times Dispatch, but I don’t remember anything about the poem except Vic’s reaction to my interpretation. He thought I was nuts!

Vic’s bewildered expression as I raved about his poem taught me a lesson about interpreting other people’s art…I’m not that good at it. Therefore it is with some trepidation that I venture an opinion about what architect Scott Harmon had in mind when he designed the Mangum506 Condos in Downtown Durham.

I had a chance to see the project and several of the remaining few units that are for sale a couple of weeks ago and to meet Scott and one of his business partners in the project, Susana Dancy. Scott himself and his business, Center Studio Architecture are now an integral part of Downtown.  Scott lives in a historic building within view of the Mangum506 project and Center Studio occupies what once was a pawnshop at 5 Points on Main Street.

The Mangum506 website portrays the project as lively and sexy…a happening place as we used to say. It is much different than most of the residential opportunities that started developing downtown in the 80’s with Adam Abrams’ Warehouse Condos on Duke Street. Those and the project Andy Widmark and Todd Zapolski undertook to convert the upper floors of retail space in the 5 Points area were very interesting adaptations of commercial space to residential use. In contrast, the Mangum506 units were designed from the ground up for residential use. They also directly address one of the key issues of living in a downtown neighborhood, convenient parking. Most of the units have over-sized single garages that will accommodate a car and other accouterments of an active lifestyle like bikes and kayaks or even a small workshop.

But my main reaction was different. Maybe because of my age (old) or maybe because of the time of day I visited the project (late morning), or maybe it was the cluelessness that Vic Dorr discovered about me in Junior English at BHS, but I got a totally different feeling from the project than I had expected from the website.

By all accounts the residents that are now living in the units are the smart, attractive and active professionals that you would expect.  And the colorful scheme of the building’s exterior and clean uncluttered lines are in sharp contrast to the historic tobacco warehouse aesthetic so prized in Downtown.

I’m sorry Scott if I’m missing the point entirely but what I felt was peacefulness, refuge, a safe place. What I imagined chatting with Scott and Susana in one of the units staged as a model, was a sunny Sunday morning with the New York Times, some good coffee and Dusty, walk ready,  at my feet watching the church goers finding parking and strolling to the nearby churches. Maybe some subdued classical music in the background.

Maybe that’s what Scott intended, maybe not. Siting the project in the middle of Downtown near the Farmers Market and many of Durham’s fine new restaurants and many of its government buildings certainly provides a lively contrast to the leafy blandness of many of the condo/townhouse alternatives providing similar sized space in the suburbs.

The Mangum506 project has not been immune to the downturn which has slowed sales to the point that Scott and his partners are now more open to the requests they’ve had to rent the remaining units until the economy sorts itself out.  This is not a bad thing but it would be a shame for anyone sitting on the sidelines with good credit or cash to miss the opportunity to acquire one of the remaining homes in this unique project.

I am a Realtor and I’d love to show these downtown Durham homes and represent anyone interested in acquiring one of the few remaining. But I’m also a Downtown booster and would encourage anyone looking for a unique home that is already hooked up with a buyer agent or just prefers to contact the developers to do so.  Susana is currently handling the sales and her contact information is on the site.

If you check the Durham statistics under the Local Market Explorer in the left column of this page you will see that there are signs that Durham home prices are recovering.  We can expect that the trend of Downtown redevelopment which has been carefully nurtured for two decades will continue and get stronger as the economy improves. There will be other opportunities for gracious downtown living coming off the drawing boards of developers like Scott and Susana but the Mangum506 will continue to be sought after for many years to come…my prediction…clueless or not.

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