DURHAM City Council members raised no objections Thursday to an East Main Street site for the new police headquarters, but they did have enough questions and concerns to put off giving staff the go-ahead.
City General Services Director Joel Reitzer presented the 600 block of East Main – a block east of the county’s Human Services Building – as the city administration’s pick over a site off Fayetteville Street and the current headquarters location on West Chapel Hill Street.
Reitzer said there were several factors in the Main Street site’s favor, including ease of access, its 4.4-acre size, and location.
While most of downtown’s revitalization is going on at its center, such as the 21C hotel, and to the west, a new development on East Main could be “a catalyst for that sector,” he said.
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Council members, though, were not so sure. Among their concerns:
• Taking land that might be used for private development near the proposed Dillard Street light-rail station;
• Making sure the design of a new Police Department headquarters avoids the look of a secured “bunker”; and
• Livening the street frontage with retail shops or some other pedestrian attractions, and maybe cooperating with the county to develop part of its Human Services parking lot.
“It’s critically important about what we do with the streetscape,” said Councilman Steve Schewel, and Councilman Don Moffitt said his approval for using the site was contingent upon “seriously looking at how we can do right by East Durham on Main Street.”
Councilwoman Diane Catotti said she was also concerned about presenting a pedestrian-unfriendly face, and suggested that the proposed police parking deck be large enough to handle park-and-ride use for the light rail station.
Reitzer agreed that nobody wants a bunker “kind of look” downtown and said connecting a headquarters with the community was an important design feature of other headquarters the city staff looked at around the country.
Adjusting the parking, or incorporating retail space into the new buildings was possible, but would add to cost. Building on the Main Street site would cost about $54 million, he said, taking into account sale of the current headquarters and other police property incorporated into the new buildings, and with the county sharing in the cost of an included new 911 center.
Formal approval of the site, which would let staff settle details for buying it, could come at the council’s next regular council meeting Oct. 20. If approved, Reitzer said contract proposals for design and construction contracts could be ready for the council’s review in December.