City staffers will move forward with a design for the new Police Department headquarters that doesn’t include saving a 92-year-old former Chevrolet dealership on the site.
On Thursday Mayor Bill Bell and council members Diane Catotti, Eugene Brown and Cora Cole-McFadden indicated they didn’t want to spend city money to save the building.
“I’m a preservationist,” Brown said, “but in this case the dollar signs, as well as future usage, make saving the Carpenter building rather difficult.”
Councilmen Steve Schewel and Eddie Davis preferred an option proposed by a local organization that saved the Carpenter Motor Co. building and brought the potential for private development to East Main Street.
Councilman Don Moffitt said he opposed the site altogether.
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 five options steered away from allowing private development on most of the site for security purposes and included two that incorporated the Carpenter building, which would cost the city nearly $4 million to save.
The City Council delayed a decision at its Sept. 7 meeting to evaluate a proposal submitted a week before by Preservation Durham and Durham Area Designers, an organization of architects, designers, planners, developers and community advocates.
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 argued that the city should keep the three-story building that had a drive-in filling station and an elevator that transported vehicles for service to upper floors.
“To bulldoze this one remaining piece of history and character in favor of another block of bland sameness that’s dark and quiet after 5 p.m. shows that we haven’t learned a thing from the urban planning blunders of the 1960s that wiped out entire neighborhoods and gave us the current City Hall and the awful police HQ building behind it,” Preservation Durham said in an email.
The proposal submitted by the Durham Area Designers preserves the Carpenter by incorporating all of the headquarters’ square footage in the new construction, meaning the city wouldn’t have to renovate the older building.
“The city could sell the Carpenter Building to someone interested in a compatible and sensitive adaptive re-use, (which could be requisite by deed restrictions), and thereby provide a revenue source to the project,” states a letter to the City Council from Dan Jewell, president of the Durham Area Designers.
Another aspect of the debate centered on choosing a design with 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 East Durham.
The Durham Area Designers proposal also included pulling the headquarters building off of Main Street. Jewell states in the letter that security measures will prevent the street front of the building from being active and transparent area on Main Street.
The designers concept also would have allowed for the city to sell a triangle of land on the property, which would allow for a second party development and “provide the best opportunity to create a lively, transparent and active street frontage,” the letter states.
But an analysis by O’Brien/Atkins and city officials raised a number of concerns about the proposal, which included no presence of the headquarters on Main Street, a lack of an intuitive entry into the police building and not having enough visitor parking spaces.
Other concerns centered on program challenges, such as the layout didn’t allow simultaneous access to the loading dock and the parking deck didn’t provide adequate exiting for emergency responses.
The proposal also includes an additional cost of $1.8 million, which includes stabilizing the Carpenter building for future restoration and other changes needed to compress the new construction.
Schewel said he thought that saving the building had value and anticipated costs could be reduced by some tweaks to the new construction’s design. The sale of the Carpenter building and another section to a private developer could also offset the cost.
“I do think we are missing an opportunity,” Schewel said.
The price tag
The police headquarters was to cost $62.4 million. But last month council members learned the price tag had risen to $80.9 million, though eliminating some parts of the project could save up to $9.6 million.
The city plans to sell the existing headquarters on West Chapel Hill Street, which no longer meets the department’s needs, and use the money to help pay for the new building.