City schedules briefing about police HQ sites

Mar. 09, 2014 @ 04:09 PM

City officials are ready to resume public debate on merits of three potential sites for a new Durham Police Department headquarters building, at a special City Council meeting Thursday.

The gathering will take place in City Hall’s second-floor Committee Room at 6:30 p.m. and feature a briefing from General Services Director Joel Reitzer.

He will detail the pluses and minuses of each site, the likely costs associated with using them and how the proposed headquarters would fit on them, City Manager Tom Bonfield said.

He added that administrators already “have shared some of that with council members,” a comment that almost certainly alluded to a recent closed-door council meeting that included high-level representation from the Police Department.

State law allows public bodies like the council to confer behind closed doors on property acquisitions, to deny property owners they might negotiate with information on their bargaining strategy.

The prospective sites for the new headquarters are all near downtown Durham.

They are 505 W. Chapel Hill St., site of the existing headquarters; property on East Main Street near the county’s new human-services building; and the East Umstead Street site of the long-demolished Fayette Place apartments.

City Council members last debated the matter publicly late in 2012 and at the time signaled they didn’t favor re-using the site of the current headquarters.

It’s next to the N.C. Mutual Life Insurance Co. building, and is regarded in some quarters as a major redevelopment prospect.

Previously discussed plans for using the other two sites in fact assumed the city would sell the West Chapel Hill Street tract, raising money to offset some of its construction expenses.

It remains on the list, even though a project there would be the most expensive of the potential choices, as a fallback option “if we weren’t able to reach acceptable agreements with the other two properties, since we don’t own them,” Bonfield said.

The manager confirmed that the city’s real-estate office, which works for Reitzer, has opened talks with the owners of the other sites.

He added that every site has someone who doesn’t like it, that “any of the three can work” and that the administration doesn’t “have a preferred” option from the prospective choices.

That was a change in Bonfield’s tune from 2012, when the manager openly favored the East Main Street site.  

But “each comes with pluses and minuses,” said City Councilman Don Moffitt, who joined the council in early 2013 after its previous work-session review of the possibilities.

The city’s capital-improvement planning assumes the new headquarters and associated 911 center will be about a $47.7 million project, one that will incur significant costs starting in fiscal 2014-15.

Reitzer will bring to Thursday’s briefing “updated information from a financial perspective that we didn’t have before,” Bonfield said, adding that the city’s cost assumptions nonetheless haven’t changed and can’t, given its borrowing policies.

Moffitt said in weighing the possibilities, he’ll look primarily to their “cost, location, and, for lack of a better term, expansion or growth opportunities.”

He said it would also be “an important consideration” if a site seemed likely to raise the Police Department’s long-term operating costs.

The Police Department is under orders to file a memo outlining any “concerns or issues” it might have about “any of the three sites from an operational perspective,” Bonfield said.