Proposal aims to save modernist office

ccampbell@newsobserver.comMay 28, 2014 

— As fans of modernist architecture scramble to find a tenant to save a Glenwood Avenue office building, a group of architects has another alternative to demolition: adding several floors on its rooftop.

G. Milton Small’s 52-year-old building – the longtime home of Raleigh Orthopaedic Clinic – has been vacant for nearly a year. Owner John Lyon Jr. has filed plans for a new building twice as large to capitalize on the prime location near Crabtree Valley Mall, though he says he’s open to tenants interested in the Small building.

The group N.C. Modernist Houses launched a campaign last month to save the structure. But with an aging interior and minimal natural light at the center, finding an interested company is proving a challenge.

Kenneth E. Hobgood Architects, a father-and-son firm based in downtown Raleigh, has proposed a compromise plan that could make the building more viable in today’s office-space market.

Hobgood suggests taking a slice out of the center of the building, creating a U-shape around an outdoor courtyard to let in more sunlight. To add square footage, he’d build a multi-story addition over a section of the roof, with room for a rooftop garden.

It might sound like a costly approach, but the architects think the numbers would be similar to the cost of razing the building and constructing a three-story, 72,000-square-foot building – Lyon’s current plan.

“Our big push was to use tax credits” that could effectively reduce the cost by 40 percent, said Patrick Hobgood, who recently returned from New York to join his father’s firm.

Jimmy Barnes, the real-estate agent who’s marketing the property, said Lyon is willing to talk with potential tenants about various possibilities for the site. But he said plans for the brand-new, three-story building are moving ahead.

“We really haven’t discussed that rendering,” Barnes said. “I don’t know if any of those are feasible.”

Kenneth Hobgood said he’s shown the designs to Lyon. “His reaction was, ‘it’s kind of crazy, but if I could find a tenant who was interested,’”Hobgood recalled.

While preservationists sometimes oppose major changes to historic buildings, Modernist Houses director George Smart is a fan of the addition, which he framed as middle ground between knocking down a historic building and keeping it unchanged.

“Hobgood’s plan is a brilliantly engineered tower expansion that not only maintains the integrity of the original Milton Small building but adds great views over Glenwood Avenue,” he said. “The plan would give the building a stunning second life.”

Smart’s group has a self-imposed deadline of July 21 to find a new tenant to save the building, but demolition is likely months away.

If the efforts don’t succeed, Raleigh would lose another example of modernist architecture, following the 2011 demolition of N.C. State University’s bookstore – also designed by Small. And while it has far fewer fans than the Glenwood office building, Small’s former police headquarters building on McDowell Street is also slated for the wrecking ball.

Campbell: 919-829-4802; Twitter: @RaleighReporter

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