After more than 90 minutes of public comments and questions from elected leaders, the Durham City Council delayed making a decision on the design of the police department’s new headquarters.
The decision will be delayed about two weeks to allow consultants and city staff to evaluate a proposal recently introduced by local organizations concerned about the possible historical significance of the 92-year-old Chevrolet dealership Carpenter Motor Co. building.
“To me, two weeks for project that is going to be here another 20 or 30 years, I don’t think is going to hurt us,” Mayor Bill Bell said.
The City Council wants to create a building that meets the dual purpose of housing police headquarters and 911 emergency communications officials and activating a section of East Main Street that connects a thriving downtown and a struggling section of Durham.
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The debate on the best design option has mainly centered on whether elected leaders want to spend nearly $4 million extra to to save the Carpenter Motor Co. building and whether the space should be shared with private development.
At a City Council work session in August, architectural consultant firm O’Brien/Atkins presented five options for arranging the headquarters, surface parking and a parking deck on the 4.5 acre block at 600 East Main Street. The area sits between Main and Ramseur streets, with South Elizabeth Street on the west and Hood Street on the east. The five options steered away from allowing private development on most of the site for security purposes and included two that incorporated the Carpenter building.
The city’s architectural consultants said the Carpenter building has no historical designation and doesn’t define the architecture for any time period in that part of town.
Preservation Durham, however, disagrees. Preservation Durham collaborated with Durham Area Designers to create a sixth design option that was recently sent to city officials. The option allows the city to sell off a section on the site for private development, which could offset the cost of saving the building. City officials expressed concern that the proposal pulls the city’s presence off of Main Street.
Preservation Durham Executive Director Wendy Hillis and others said during the meeting that the building represents early 20th Century car dealerships that were an important part of Durham during the tobacco era and that it should be preserved. Hillis pointed out that Duke University buildings haven’t been given a historical designation, but that doesn’t mean the campus doesn’t have valuable buildings.
The police headquarters was initially expected to cost $62.4 million. But last month council members learned that a recent review of the project’s needs has raised the price tag to $80.9 million, though eliminating some parts of the project could save up to $9.6 million.
The new complex is necessary, city representatives have said, because the current headquarters no longer meets the Police Department’s needs.
The city plans to sell the existing headquarters on West Chapel Hill Street and use the proceeds to help pay for the new building.