Brian Davis has always had a problem: He's tall and ceilings are
low. As undergraduates at Duke, the 6'7 1/2" Davis and his 6'11"
buddy, Christian Laettner, often discussed how to address that
and more serious city planning issues, such as the need to
refurbish old and abandoned inner-city structures to create
apartments and business spaces. "I remember seeing how bad urban
life was," says Davis, 30, who grew up in Atlantic City and
Washington before majoring in Afro-American studies at Duke.
"There was no good housing. Being tall, Christian and I knew
that loft-style apartments worked well. High ceilings were
absolutely part of our vision."
In 1994, Davis, Laettner and a third partner, Duke
business-school graduate Tom Niemann, established Blue Devil
Ventures (BDV), a for-profit community development company in
Durham, N.C. that restores and reuses dilapidated urban
properties. Although Laettner's day job as a Dallas Maverick
cuts into his office time, managing partners Davis and Niemann
regularly consult him. BDV raised $43 million from banks,
venture capitalists and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban
Development to purchase and convert five tobacco warehouses into
West Village, an apartment complex that includes 38,000 square
feet of commercial and retail space in Durham. "We want to make
downtown better," Davis says, "make it functional again." More
than three quarters of the 243 apartments--all of which have
ceilings that satisfy the partners' elevated vision--are rented
(at $600 to $1,600 per month), and 85% of the commercial space
is leased, with construction scheduled to wrap up in January.
The next stop on BDV's hoped-for urban restoration tour is St.
Louis (Niemann's hometown).
When they weren't city-planning in their dorm, Davis and Laettner
were building a legacy on the basketball court. Although Davis's
only, and Laettner's first, SI cover appearance came as Duke was
crushed by UNLV in the 1990 NCAA finals, as senior co-captains
they led the Blue Devils to a second consecutive NCAA title.
Coach Mike Krzyzewski called Davis "the best leader for our
team"--a team that also included Grant Hill and Bobby Hurley. The
NBA proved tougher for Davis. Drafted and released by the Phoenix
Suns before the 1992-93 season began, Davis rode the bench for
the 1993-94 Minnesota Timberwolves. He retired after that season
but has never stopped playing basketball and hopes to mount an
NBA comeback next season. In the meantime he and his pregnant
wife, Marcia, 28, look forward to spending time in their West
Village penthouse apartment, marveling at their 15-foot ceilings.
--Kristin Green Morse
November 27, 2000
"We want to make downtown better," Davis says, "make it