DURHAM — Greenfire Development announced plans Tuesday to turn a former tobacco auction house into a six-level, mixed-use project that preserves the historic building’s northern half.
“While we would like to see the entire building preserved, we … generally support the plan,” Preservation Durham Chairman Josh Parker said in a prepared statement.
The plans call for renovating the Liberty Warehouse’s northern half for commercial use. Duke University now leases part of its 125,000 square feet for storage.
On the southern half, Greenfire plans to demolish most of the original structure and replace it with 160 apartments built on four floors above a parking garage enclosed by street-level retail space.
The plan preserves the 1930s façade on Rigsbee Avenue, and the brick south wall that faces the city skateboard park and is the rear wall for the city-owned sculpture-casting pavilion.
“It’s close to an ideal solution,” said developer Bob Chapman, who has transformed several buildings a block north of the warehouse. Chapman said Greenfire Managing Partner Paul Smith met with neighboring business owners to get ideas on the warehouse’s future.
The southern half is where the roof collapsed during a rainstorm in May 2011, leading to the warehouse’s temporary condemnation. Greenfire had a deadline Oct. 31 for city-mandated repairs of the roof and interior water damage. Failure could have led to fines as high as $500 a day, but Smith said Tuesday that the city has agreed to delay enforcement.
The repairs were ordered after the city found the warehouse in a state of “demolition by neglect.” Durham ordinances require owners of historic properties to maintain them in compliance with building codes.
According to a Greenfire release, financing has not been secured for the southern-half’s redevelopment, and the company expects to spend 12 to 18 months on market research and other preliminary studies before breaking ground.
The Liberty is the last remaining auction floor of more than a dozen that once operated in Durham. The city’s tobacco market closed in 1987 after 117 years.