Contractors are in the home stretch of demolishing Liberty Warehouse, before months of building shops and apartments in its place.
And that has the Liberty Arts folks worried.
Their problem is they can’t get in to use their sculpture-casting pavilion. The pavilion is backed by an old, unstable brick wall which is to be incorporated into the new building and, even with steel reinforcing, the wall presents a considerable safety hazard right now.
“We’re losing close to $90,000 in annual revenue if we can’t use that facility,” said Jackie MacLeod✔, president of the Liberty Arts board.
“It’s just not imaginable how we can survive that,” MacLeod said.
The organization’s members and supporters are pressing the city, which owns the pavilion, to intervene. But East West Partners, the developer, has a reason for keeping the artists out.
“Their facility is at the base of a very un-sturdy situation and what will be a seven-story, new-construction tower,” said Bryson Powell, East West Partners’ project manager.
“You have lots of safety protocols on a job like that,” Powell said, “but you never want anybody directly under you when you’re seven stories in the sky.”
Liberty Arts took its name from the warehouse, where it along with a number of other nonprofits and individual artists rented space until a 2011 roof collapse forced the building’s closing.
The group moved its studio, originally inside the warehouse, to the Cordoba building in East Durham, but the casting pavilion, purpose-built, is not movable.
East West Partners contracted to buy the warehouse, and announced plans to redevelop it, in 2013. Early on, Liberty Arts started conversations with the company about access to its pavilion, MacLeod and Powell said.
“It became very clear the wall that our casting facility is adjacent to was very crumbly and there was ... a very high possibility it would collapse during the demolition process,” MacLeod said.
The expectation, though, was that the pavilion would be off-limits for just a few weeks.
“Eventually we found out that really we were not welcome back in the facility until the end of construction, which at the time was slated for December 2015,” she said.
“And that has huge detrimental effects on Liberty Arts.”
The Bull City Sculpture Show, which opened in May with a dozen juried works from around the country installed at outdoor sites downtown, has brought Liberty Arts a lot of visibility beyond Durham, she said.
“We’re finding a lot of interest where artists want to come and cast with us,” she said. They’ve had interest from the University of North Carolina in using the casting facility in an art curriculum, and more inquiries in collaborations from “educational institutions from elementary school up to high school, on to college,” she said.
“We said we’d be back in November, let us get back in touch. (Now) we have to turn around and say to them we might not be getting back for over a year,” MacLeod said.
City Hall and East West Partners are sympathetic.
“We are ... working with East West Partners to try and find ways to reestablish access,” said Bo Ferguson, deputy city manager. “We are diligently trying to find a a path.”
Powell, the project manager, said the situation is “real unfortunate.
“We’re trying to get creative and figure out a way to keep them in business,” he said. “They’re obviously in a bad situation and being pretty vocal about it, and we understand that.”