Council gets mixed feedback on Durham police HQ

Mar. 13, 2014 @ 09:56 PM

Moving the Durham Police Department to either of the new sites city leaders are eying for a new headquarters is likely to leave a key interest group or two unhappy, given what they heard during a forum on Thursday.

One of the sites, on East Main Street near the Golden Belt complex, seemed the favorite of some city staffers, with Office of Economic and Workforce Development Director Kevin Dick saying it looks like “the best option in terms of the number of positive factors in its favor.”

But the CEO of the company that owns and operates Golden Belt, Gary Kueber, told City Council members that he hopes they look elsewhere and allow the East Main property to become a commercial redevelopment prospect.

The property “is a crucial one because it’s really the only non-institutional site between Roxboro” Street and the Golden Belt area, which has lagged a bit development-wise because of its isolation from the rest of downtown, Kueber said.

The other new site, the former location of the Fayette Place apartments off East Umstead Street, has issues in the eyes of city staffers. But it would likely make for the least expensive headquarters project, given the possibilities of consolidating department operations and freeing up other buildings for sale.

The Fayette Place tract is steeply sloped, near homes and has restrictive covenants on it, likely from its days as a low-cost housing complex belonging to the Durham Housing Authority.

Designers would have to find a way to put the station on Fayetteville Street, hiding things like parking and a vehicle-impound lot on parts of the tract that are more out of the public’s sight, General Services Director Joel Reitzer said.

Reitzer noted there are also potential access problems thanks to traffic bottlenecks on Fayetteville.

There were obvious mixed feelings among the people who spoke to the Fayette Place site, some saying if the council chooses it, officials should think about putting more than just a police headquarters there.

“What we have in the area is a need for jobs,” said Larry Hester, who owns two shopping centers nearby on the Fayetteville Street corridor. “Some of the [tract] there could be used for environmentally friendly manufacturing.”

Other preferred that the city drop the idea of moving police there.

“The location on Main Street would be more favorable as far as the flow of traffic,” said Anita Keith-Foust, an activist from the Old North Durham area. “Make it Main Street, and let us have some low- to moderate-income housing on Fayetteville Street.”

Officials also have the option of leaving the police where they are, at 505 W. Chapel Hill St.

The current headquarters was built in 1959 to house an insurance company. The site is large enough to accommodate new construction via a multi-phase project, Reitzer said.

Using it would mean forgoing the chance to sell the property to offset part of the city’s construction costs.

Nonetheless, Reitzer said officials could still make the numbers work, given that they could sell properties in the Rigsbee Avenue area that now some of the Police Department’s subsidiary operations.

Preservation interests would factor in both West Chapel Hill Street and East Main Street.

Wendy Hillis, executive director of Preservation Durham, said the group doesn’t want to see the existing headquarters demolished. The building’s designer, Milton Small, was a Modernist architect of some note, she said.

The group also has an eye on the East Main Street site. It opposes demolition of a key building there that dates from 1923, the three-story former Carpenter Motor Co. Hillis and her group see it as a renovation prospect.