Downtown Durham block with old police headquarters could become place to live, work, shop

This aerial photograph of West Chapel Hill Street in downtown Durham is used for the city’s request for qualifications from developers of the old police headquarters site.
This aerial photograph of West Chapel Hill Street in downtown Durham is used for the city’s request for qualifications from developers of the old police headquarters site. City of Durham

The west side of downtown Durham will look different in a few years.

Four developers have been picked to plan how that part of the city will look, who will live there and who will work there.

And it will all be on one city block at 505 W. Chapel Hill St.

The old Durham Police Department headquarters has sat empty since police moved into a new building on East Main Street in November. The old headquarters is next to the Tower at Mutual Plaza (formerly the NC Mutual building) and across from Duke Memorial United Methodist Church.

In June 2018, the City Council decided to sell the 4.4 acre site as long as development plans included some affordable housing. The voted followed several grassroots Durham groups’ advocating for affordable housing downtown.

Nine developer groups applied, and four made the short list:

Akridge, Jefferson Apartment Group, NSV Development, SCG Development, Perkins + Will.

HM Partners, JDavis, McAdams, DHIC, Brasfield & Gorrie.

The Fallon Company, Duda|Paine Architects, Morningstar Law Group.

Wexford, Ventas, GMH Capital Partners, Gensler, Evoke Studio Architecture, Whiting-Turner, Holt Brothers Construction, McAdams.

The City Council agreed Thursday to request proposals over the summer that include 50 to 80 units of affordable housing on the site as well as proposals that include affordable-housing plans on a different site nearby.

The Coalition for Affordable Housing and Transit hopes for at least 80 affordable housing units on the land for those making 60 percent area median income or less.

“This was the explicit, first priority set by the council at its work session last June,” Dick Hails told the council on Thursday. He said the second option, eliminating affordable housing from the old police headquarters site as long at it’s nearby, would undercut “the larger goal of having affordable housing in every Durham neighborhood.”

But the council wants to see what plans developers will bring.

“I think this is one of the last great opportunities as a city to brand our city,” said council member Mark-Anthony Middleton. He said that One City Center, the new skyscraper, is a great project but he’s not sure he wants it to identify Durham as Durham beyond the American Tobacco Campus water tower and smokestack on the skyline.

Council member DeDreana Freeman said they need to factor in the $95 million affordable housing bond referendum planned for November ballots as well as the Durham Housing Authority’s redevelopment plans. She likes the idea of the West Chapel Hill Street development including office space, not just retail and residential.

“Housing is important, but if there’s no place to work, housing becomes even more unaffordable,” Freeman said.

Priorities for proposals include:

A significant amount of housing affordable to residents at 60 percent AMI.

Significant revenue to the city from the sale of the land and future local tax revenues from on-site development.

Deliver a mixed-use project including office space to support downtown job growth.

Preserve the existing police headquarters building.

Deliver signature design and an activated street-level experience for downtown’s identity and vibrancy.

The Durham Police Department headquarters on West Chapel Hill Street will be vacant later this year when the new headquarters opens at the other end of downtown Durham. Durham City Council is deciding what to do with the property. File photo

Preservation Durham and North Carolina Modernist Houses asked the city last year to preserve the headquarters building. According to North Carolina Modernist Houses, architect George Milton Small Jr. designed it in 1959 as the Home Security Life building.

What’s next

Once the city receives the four final proposals for the property, the City Council will consider them for approval this fall.

The new Durham Police Department headquarters and Emergency Communication Center is a $71.3 million complex that has been in the works since 2010.

Related stories from Raleigh News & Observer