City: Reuse of buildings on police HQ sites ‘not ruled out’
It’s possible city officials would decide to reuse some of the buildings that on the East Main Street land that’s in the running to become the site of Durham’s next police headquarters.
That was the word General Services Director Joel Reitzer had this week for Rob Emerson, a landscape architect and member of the board of Preservation Durham.
“We have not ruled out the potential reuse of one or more of the buildings, nor recognizing the former uses,” Reitzer told Emerson, who wrote city officials on Tuesday to urge them to preserve the current headquarters and the buildings on the East Main site.
Reitzer added that while General Services has shown off conceptual, “test fit” drawings of how the city could place the new headquarters on each of the three sites under consideration, “in no way are we attempting to provide a site plan or design at this time.”
Emerson and other people connected to Preservation Durham have objected to the possibility that the City Council eventual decision on the siting issue could lead not just to demolitions on the East Main Street site, but of the existing headquarters on West Chapel Hill Street too.
The East Main site is home among others to the building that once housed the Carpenter Motor Co. The three-story, 1923-vintage structure at 600 E. Main St. appears on the preservation group’s list of “places in peril” it deems worth saving.
It argues the structure should “be restored and repurposed for commercial use” that links downtown with the Golden Belt complex and other parts of east Durham.
The existing headquarters, built in 1957, isn’t on the group’s places-in-peril list but of late has proven to have advocates. Its designer, Milton Small, was a local Modernist architect of some note.
City officials in considering a move of headquarters have signaled they view the Chapel Hill Street property as a redevelopment prospect, the sale of which could help them pay for construction elsewhere.
But the West Chapel Hill Street property remains on their list of prospective headquarter sites, along with the East Main properties and the former home on East Umstead Street of the long-demolished Fayette Place apartments.
In his email, Emerson noted that the city has prospered in recent years by encouraging the reuse and renovation of its old buildings, including Brightleaf Square, the American Tobacco project, West Village and the former SunTrust tower.
Nearly all those buildings “were once considered liabilities and faced demolition,” Emerson said. “Instead, their renovation has made our downtown a unique and special place.”
Even the vacant Fayette Place site has had detractors, some people arguing it would be better reserved for future business or a low-cost housing development.
City officials haven’t finished their evaluation of the choices, so all three of the possibilities “are still in play,” City Manager Tom Bonfield said.
But the work continues, Bonfield said he’s asked his staff “to go back and take a look and see if there’s another site we ought to be considering, or another site we threw out early in the process that we should go back and take a look at, just in case.”