Resuscitating McPherson Hospital

Jun. 25, 2013 @ 04:43 PM

The road so far has been long and winding, but it now appears that the former McPherson Hospital on West Main Street may finally be on the cusp of renovation into a new extended-stay hotel.

The historic building cleared another in a long series of critical steps – perhaps the last – on Monday night when a previously skeptical Durham County Board of Commissioners committed $400,000 to help close a financing gap for the proposed redevelopment.

City officials already have signaled that they’ll ante up $1.245 million to help Concord Hospitality Group build a Marriott Residence Inn on the site at Buchanan Boulevard, just off Duke University’s East Campus. Concord’s plans include preserving a prominent portion of the façade of the 1926-vintage hospital building.

County Manager Mike Ruffin and some commissioners had worried that the project was too far from the downtown Civic Center to justify an economic-incentives grant. As many supporters argued, and as we have agreed, the site is a practical walk from the center – and the Bull City Connector provides frequent, free bus service that connects the two.

County officials, while not necessarily acceding to that argument, signed on to the notion that it could be considered an historic preservation grant – a point stressed all along by Trinity Park neighbors of the site, the Historic Preservation Commission and Preservation Durham, among others. The county grant helps cover costs added to the project by the determination to preserve the hotel façade.

Finally, the commissioners came to realize that a rejection of the grant request all but certainly would consign to irretrievable decay or demolition the historic hospital building – which has been vacant since the N. C. Eye, Ear, Nose and Throat Hospital moved to North Roxboro Street (and changed its name to N. C. Specialty Hospital) in 2005.

Trinity Park neighborhood leaders, who successfully stalled an earlier plan that would have demolished the hospital and which they felt would be badly out of character with the neighborhood, worked for months with Concord, which took up the project after an earlier developer was rebuffed. 

Both developer and neighborhood gave ground to come up with the final plan – foreshadowing the spirit of compromise that eventually led developer and commissioners to settle on the $400,000 figure, less than originally asked.

In approving the grant – which will be returned to the county in property and other taxes in the hotel’s first two years – commissioners insisted on a commitment by Concord to help ensure employment opportunities for local residents. Concord readily agreed.

The ball’s now in Concord’s court. Its plans call for construction to start this fall. For residents and businesses – and passers-by in the busy area – it will be a welcome new beginning.

We commend county and city officials for giving the critical green light.