Markay Media, the Southern Documentary Fund, and The Cookery are renovating a West Chapel Hill Street property into a film hub and events center.

Construction at 1105 West Chapel Hill Street is expected to be completed by July 31. Seminary Avenue Redux LLC, the group overhauling the nine-thousand-square-foot space, got $100,000 from the city of Durham for that effort Monday night.
Cynthia Hill, the Durham-based filmmaker behind Markay Media, is the managing partner of the development group. Markay Media produces the PBS series A Chef’s Life and is also working on a series called Food Town about Durham chefs and a pilot on Ricky Moore of the Saltbox Seafood Joint. The Southern Documentary Fund has helped sponsor more than 150 films either made in the South or about the South.

Renovations of the 1943 building are a $1.2 million investment, including $300,000 from the developer, a $900,000 loan, and the $100,000 from the city, which will be awarded if and when the projects meets the economic development goals it outlined for the city council Monday night. (Check out the plans here).

“We are all a part of that community and believe in that community,” Hill said.

The project survived a tough line of questioning by council members on whether locals will be hired to fill newly created jobs, if they would be paid a living wage, and if the project would benefit the surrounding West End community rather than just hike property costs.

“We can see some of the problems that the success of downtown Durham has caused,” said council member Charlie Reece, adding that the group “made a solid case” for how the project would benefit the surrounding community.

“I think you’re going to do something great there,” said council member Steve Schewel.
The council voted unanimously to contribute to the project.

The first floor of the building will be used by The Cookery. The business already has an events space, food production facility, and space for The Cookery’s culinary entrepreneurship incubator. It will move its event space into the newly renovated building as well, allowing it to expand its other ventures and create five new jobs. The second floor will accommodate office space for Markay Media and the Southern Documentary Fund, as well as space available rent-free for artists and community use. Both organizations hope the space will give budding artists a place to learn and, eventually, showcase their work in a professional setting.

The group pledged to create seven new jobs in the project’s first year and eighteen within five years, serve community nonprofits, and revamp the underutilized property. City staff members, in a memo recommending the city help fund the project, said the redevelopment “will be a major step in the continuing of transformation of the West Chapel street commercial corridor.”

The city has worked with Seminary Avenue Redux LLC before. It gave the group $49,000 toward an ongoing effort to redevelop a gas station into a yogurt shop and coffee shop.

Hill previously redeveloped the former Penny Furniture Building at 111 East Chapel Hill street as a mix of residential and commercial space. She also renovated a Victorian home on Watts Street. The Cookery’s Nick Johnson and his wife bought and renovated twelve homes in the West End area that they now rent out, including six specifically for low-income families.