Editorial: Crumbling deal threatens historic building

May. 07, 2013 @ 09:25 PM

For years, we’ve watched the old brick structure decaying along Main Street near Trinity Park.

We’re so close to finally seeing a development deal with Concord Hospitality Enterprises that doesn’t offend neighbors and seems to satisfy preservationists, because the company plans to preserve some of the original structure in their new Residence Inn extended-stay hotel.

City officials have offered about $1.2 million in local incentives to make the project possible, The Herald-Sun’s Ray Gronberg reported. Now that just leaves $755,000 for Durham County to ante up.

County Manager Mike Ruffin doesn’t want to spend the money. He’s got his reasons, chief among them that he doesn’t think the site is close enough to the Durham Convention Center and the plans don’t save enough of the historic building.

Commissioner Michael Page seemed to share Ruffin’s doubts, saying that the hotel would be more appealing to Duke University than those attending conventions in the heart of downtown.

But the convention center’s own board chairman, Patrick Byker, indicated correctly that the Bull City Connector runs right by the McPherson Hospital property.

Ruffin told commissioners that he “is not sure it’s fair for the county or the city to reimburse” Concord for costs exacted by concessions made to Trinity Park neighbors.

Fair or not, this is where we are, and the city already seems to be on board.

As a community, we’ve been around and around on this issue. To come this close only to have the county back out in the final hour seems likely to doom the hospital building and sour Concord on dealing with Durham in the future.

What’s more valuable? Ditching this deal and eventually having to go to the expense of condemning the building, destroying it and then hauling off the wreckage, leaving the property inert and unprofitable? Or investing in an incentives package that saves at least part of the distinguished old building and turns an all-too-visible eyesore into an appealing revenue generator that can give a return on investment?

County Finance Director George Quick estimated that the 143-room hotel should generate enough revenues in property, sales and occupancy taxes for the county to recoup its investment within five years.

“Every year this site sits empty, we are losing potential property tax,” said Commissioner Wendy Jacobs.

To us, it makes sense to take the risk and spend the money.

Commissioners are expected to make a final vote on the proposal next month. We hope they’ll approve the investment.

If this deal falls apart, we expect McPherson Hospital won’t be too far behind it.