City Council members endorsed the idea of locating a new police headquarters on East Main Street, but made it clear they remain concerned about its design.
By a 7-0 vote, they approved spending $5.7 million to buy a 4.5-acre site formerly home to a Chevrolet dealership. City administrators favored the Main Street location over two others under consideration, one of them the current site on West Chapel Hill Street.
Several council members repeated concerns they raised at an Oct. 8 work session that the headquarters not detract from attempts to revive the eastern part of downtown.
“If this is a forbidding corridor, this is going to be a bad outcome for everybody,” said Councilman Steve Schewel.
East Main Street connects the city center with Golden Belt, a textile factory renovated into a successful office-apartment complex that has encouraged revitalization in its surrounding neighborhood. Council members wanted assurance that the police headquarters site will present an inviting, pedestrian-friendly face.
General Services Director Joel Reitzer said council members and the public will have ample opportunity for input in how the headquarters site is developed.
“This is a public building. It’s an important site on Main Street. We recognize that,” Reitzer said. “We do want to go through a deliberative process to be sure there is community input.”
Reitzer also said the city needs to move quickly to avoid rising construction costs.
Council members also were hesitant to approve the purchase because it removes the property from potential private development near a planned light-rail station. It was suggested that the city might develop the street frontage for retail use, but Mayor Bill Bell cautioned that public money could not be used to construct commercial buildings.
Preservationists had raised objections to the city’s using the site if it involved demolishing the 1923 and 1948 automobile dealer’s buildings there. Reitzer has said there are no plans to renovate them for police use, but the site’s history will be commemorated in some form.
Consultants looking into Durham police facilities reported in late 2012 that the department was short about 43,000 square feet, comparing its current space with national averages and projecting the department’s growth out to 2030.
They need a new 911 center and offices for two of Durham’s five police districts. Since 1991, headquarters has been at 505 West Chapel Hill St., in a 1959 building that already has required several million dollars worth of stopgap repairs.
Cost for the new headquarters on Main Street is estimated at about $63 million, including the land acquisition.
One citizen, Victoria Peterson, objected to the expense.
“We constantly keep hearing crime is going down,” Peterson said. “If crime is getting better why do we keep building facilities that deal with crime?”