Durham News

Public to get a say in police HQ design

The City Council rejected renovating the existing police headquarters on West Chapel Hill Street.
The City Council rejected renovating the existing police headquarters on West Chapel Hill Street. Durham Police Department

Residents will get a chance to have their say in how the city’s new police headquarters fits into its future East Main Street location.

“This is a public building. It’s an important site on Main Street. We recognize that,” General Services Director Joel Reitzer told the City Council on Monday night. “We do want to go through a deliberative process to be sure there is community input.”

At their meeting, council members voted 7-0 to buy 4.5 acres in the 600 block of East Main for a police HQ estimated to cost almost $63 million, including $5.7 million for the property itself.

Several members repeated that they want the police building to contribute to making East Main Street a “pedestrian-friendly” corridor between the city center and the Golden Belt area in East Durham.

“If this is a forbidding corridor, this is going to be a bad outcome for everybody,” said Councilman Steve Schewel.

Schewel said he was also concerned about losing the block for “dense, transit-friendly” private development near the planned light-rail station at nearby Dillard Street.

Councilwoman Diane Catotti suggested that the police parking garage be large enough to serve the transit station as well.

“I also would like to see (city) management explore potential for public-private partnerships on the site, especially to support retail on Main Street,” Catotti said.

Mayor Bill Bell, though, said he did not think the city could use public money for commercial development.

“When we talk about using this site for retail and commercial I think we’ve got to understand what our limits are,” he said, recalling that the same issue came up when the downtown convention center was being planned in the 1980s.

“It might be we end up selling (property) back to somebody,” Bell said.

Marcus Jackson, an investment adviser who spoke at Monday’s council meeting, said he had shown the Main Street site to several development clients interested in that area.

“I haven’t heard one single negative comment about the police being there,” Jackson said. “I’m a great believer in the police being in that location.”

Preservationists had objected to the city’s using the site if it required demolishing the existing buildings there, which date from 1923 and 1948 when the block was the Carpenter Chevrolet dealership.

“These are valuable historic assets, and buildings like these have been successfully renovated all over Durham,” resident Rob Emerson said.

Reitzer has said previously there are no plans to renovate the buildings for police use, but the site’s history will be commemorated in some form.

“We recognize all of the interest there is in the site for activity on East Main Street,” Reitzer said. “We will hold design and planning forums for the ... streetscape, pedestrian experience, land use and open space, historical context and resources. ...

“It will probably take us about a year to get through the design,” he said, “but we want to move quickly because of cost escalation. ... People have found out about Durham and a lot of trade contractors are busy these days.”