Downtown Durham Inc. hiring government relations director
Dems to Nifong: Obama says please just go away, OK?

County previews new "Justice Center"

Durhamites -- or at least the hardy few who made it to the downtown library in a crowd where insiders seemed to practically outnumber "civilian" citizens -- got an interesting peek at the proposed new Durham County Justice Center last night.

County government officials joined representatives from project architects and designers O'Brien Atkins, Heery-HLM Design, and The Harris Collaborative to present the rundown on the 300,000 sq. ft., $100 million replacement for Durham's 1970s-era courthouse, itself a facility renowned for being outgrown as soon as it opened -- and with elevators prone to breaking down without fail.

Come the fall of 2012, county officials expect the replacement facility to stand as a beacon on the skyline, providing a gateway to the Bull City, a portal to downtown -- and, not coincidentally we suspect, a visual barrier obscuring Durham's largest downtown multi-unit residential complex.


In this artist's rendering, the new courthouse is visible on the block bordered by Mangum to the west, Roxboro to the east, and Dillard to the south. The justice center is designed to stand 11 stories in height, and at 187 feet in height the tall, narrow tower would stand almost as tall as the SunTrust/Hill tower downtown, and almost as long as a football field.

Which is the perfect height, really, to block the Durham County Detention Center from view coming up the freeway. And, less cynically, to provide what designers and county officials describe as a signature "gateway" to downtown, with blue-green North Carolina slate accenting a sandstone-colored building.

Also part of the design: a mid-rise wing providing extra office and administrative space, a public plaza intended to open onto American Tobacco and the future Scientific Properties high-rise development across Dillard, and a parking garage that's, well, a parking garage. (More on that in a bit.)

The justice center, which as envisioned is almost twice as large as the Diamond View II office complex visible at left in the artist's rendering, will unite a number of justice-related departments in the county, including the Sheriff's Office, which will unify its downtown operations currently bifurcated between the existing courthouse and the 300 block of East Main Street.

Juvenile Justice, the Public Defender's Office, the Clerk of Courts, and the District Attorney's office are also among the dozen or so departments set to move into the facility.

Conveniently, the justice center and the jail will be linked by an above-ground secure corridor: handy if you need to transport prisoners between the big tower and the big house or, less commonly, should your D.A. need to go spend a night in the slammer, courtesy of what we should call the Nifong Causeway.

The complex is set to be built upon the site of Scarborough & Hargett funeral home and the former downtown U-Haul center; both facilities are set to be demolished by early 2009. Construction will begin at the end of that year, with the parking deck wrapping up in winter 2011, with the center itself ready for move-in in fall 2012.

The design team emphasized the facility's intended impact on Durham's skyline, noting the "strong civic image" of Durham it was intended to portray, including notably the slate-covered stairwell rising the height of the tower, which prominently includes the Durham County seal at the building's peak.

A number of aesthetic improvements have been made since the spring's initial revealing of the plan to elected officials, who expressed caution at what was described in one reporter's coverage as an outsized hotel.

Among the changes: a more signature roofline and upgraded materials. Additionally, the front lobby to the facility has been augmented, standing now as a prominent three-story entrance point with double-height entries and the signature slate look. (To give you a sense of perspective, that blue-green entry point, seen below, is about the size and massing of the old courthouse that now serves as a county government office building on Main St.)

The building, as viewed from Mangum:


A closer look at the plaza and the entry wing...


...intended to be evocative of the World War I-era courthouse that preceeded it:


Inside, the courthouse will be constructed with an eye towards future expansion -- something the existing "tomorrow's courthouse" didn't quite meet. The facility will be constructed initially with 16 courtrooms, but a number of the office spaces within the building are designed for easy eventual conversion to such spaces, bringing the maximum capacity of the facility to 25.

To that end, the courthouse is designed for future expansion, since the structure (and its parking deck) would need to be enlarged to create displaced office space. Regular office space is cheaper to build down the road than the structural and circulation elements supporting courthouse areas, the latter of which require separate egress and wayfaring paths for staff/judges, the public, and defendants. In a smart move, the building's tower -- which is set up from day one for such multi-party circulation -- allows for easy conversion to more courtrooms, with offices sliding over if ever needed.


As the schematic above shows, if you're going to have a massive courthouse, it seems you need a massive parking deck to go with it. And we have nothing less than a 900-vehicle deck immediately adjacent to the courthouse.

To this observer, one of the elements likely to draw some questions (though only receiving it last night from me and one other public meeting attendee) is the parking deck's prominence along both Dillard and Roxboro, raising spectres of Durham Centre II: The Revenge. (For those new to the downtown debates, the Durham Centre tower across the street from the Carolina Theatre draws catcalls periodically for massing a large parking deck without pedestrian interest or features right along Morgan St., effectively killing any street-level activity.)

Twenty years later, the parking deck for the justice center will... sit without pedestrian interest or features right along Dillard and Roxboro.


One design team member noted the aesthetic upgrades to the parking deck, including a slate-covered tower at its southeastern corner and the presence of green trellises on upper floors, as ways of softening the look of the deck; indeed, one noted that the structured parking should be a signature gateway into Durham as drivers proceeded north on Roxboro into downtown.

In their defense, both county engineer Glen Whisler and county commission chair Ellen Reckhow noted that the much-ballyhooed concept of local governments providing street-level retail pads or allowing the decks to be "wrapped" with office space or residential as with American Tobacco's East Deck were difficult to accomplish under what both noted were legal constraints impinging on the possibility of creating such public-private partnerships.

Whisler also noted the massive mixed-use development that Scientific Properties has proposed to sit just south of the complex across Dillard Street, and noted that retail and dining options would likely be just steps away from the new justice center at both the future Scientific site and at American Tobacco. He and the design team noted that crossings to both projects would be at-grade and that the large public plaza leading into the justice center was designed to open up onto both sites.

(For that matter, an on-site cafeteria is also not planned for the justice center, just a range of vending machines and a seating area for staff and members of the public to sit and dine or talk.)

The connections to Ambacco aren't just spatial, they're visual. One rendering of the east-west hallway running through the tower shows that in the westmost windows of the hall, the Lucky Strike smokestack and water tower remain visible on most floors.

One other benefit to a large parking deck close to the justice center: overflow parking for the Durham Performing Arts Center! Whisler and a member of one of the design groups both noted independently that there aren't enough spaces in the DPAC to accomplish all the patrons at the performing arts center show, and that with the East Deck being privately controlled there were no guarantees of parking access.

Which means if you're coming to the DPAC in, say, four years, look for the big parking deck at Dillard and Roxboro. The County'll gladly take a few bucks for theater parking from Raleighites stopping at the most convenient NC 147 exit. (Perhaps we'll see Mayor Bell out front with those glow-sticks, directing drivers instead to a city-owned deck?)

North of the parking deck, past the future deck expansion zone, sits the current staff parking area for the detention center; that lot is slated for future expansion of the jail itself, a facility that could end up doubling in size as Durham's population grows in the coming decades, according to Whisler.

We wouldn't expect too many changes to the design at this point. Reckhow noted that the commissioners had had some reservations about the first pass at the design, but that from what she understood of individual commissioners' responses to the revised look, the "design is vastly improved," seeming to signal smooth sailing for the $100 million project with Durham County's elected board.



Speaking of the most convenient NC 147 exit, I wonder if anyone has done a traffic study for that region with all the new development springing up there? I see more accidents at Roxboro and Dillard than anywhere else in town. Or maybe I'm just lucky. :)


Traffic studies are required in the Development/Site plan for almost any sizable building, based on sq ft or occupancy. I'm sure it's been done, or will be done before they are cleared to break ground by the City/County Planning Department. I'm not sure how wide of an area their studies have to cover, however. I don't think it's very big.


Sweet Jesus that's awful.

When did "blue-green slate" and sandstone become signature elements of Durham's architecture? Why is "blocking the view of the jail" a more important element of the design than having street level pedestrian activity accommodated?

If it was 1980, and we were looking towards the year 2000, you might be able to justify something like this. But as it stands, this just screams albatross.

Jonathan Jones

I just want to know why we can't call a courthouse a courthouse.


The design looks very attractive. However, having a whole city block taken by a parking deck seems like a waste of space. Why not put the parking underground and free the surface for condos or townhomes? It seems like there are a lot of office buildings planned and the corresponding parking decks, but there will be no people living there. It will be the usual American downtown area which is deserted when the office workers leave.

If building an underground deck is ruled out, why not pull back the deck from the street side and create a strip of storefront retail and one or two floors of condos?


The design looks attractive. However, having an entire city block occupied by a parking deck seems like a waste of space. Why not put the parking space underground? This would free up space for street level retail and condos or townhomes. It seems to me like that area is going to have a lot of office space and the corresponding parking decks. But there are no homes planned. It will become the usual American downtown which becomes deserted when the office workers leave.

If underground parking is ruled out, why not pull back the parking deck and build a strip of storefront retail with one or two floors of condos above?


Sorry about the double posting. It seemed like the first one did not go through.


Ugh! It reminds me of my least favorite building in my old city. Which by the way is the topic of many jokes in that city. But that particular one had the excuse of being built in 1980 not 2008. I like the Durham WWI era one much better.

Durham Bull Pen

It looks like a Sheraton.

I wonder what forward-thinking 'green' elements will be incorporated into this behemoth? (hahahaha, I kill me . . . )

Seriously, for reference, see the one Seattle built in 2003:


maybe I'm missing something, but how is this rendering of the new plaza evocative of the old courthouse?

Tar Heelz

Truly awful. It does not draw upon any classic principles of our Downtown. It does not incorporate pedestrian friendly ideals. It does not provide the desired parking deck office/retail wrap now a virtual requirement for new, private sector deck construction.

There is not a chance that a private developer could get such a monstrosity through the Durham approval process.

Shame on our "leaders."

Ellen Reckhow

We will be incorporating many green elements in the building and are aiming for LEED Silver certification.


I think it looks like a Sheraton, too.

It is pretty damn short-sighted to exclude both an on-site cafeteria and ground-level retail from the parking deck. Why is that so hard? Downtown is the perfect place for mixed-use - just ask City-County Planning.

If we can't get County Government that's spending $100 million tax dollars to build for 'smart growth' and wrap the deck with retail, how can we expect private developers to do it?

I would say we'll just subsidize private developers to get them to do it, but the decks that were built around American Tobacco don't have retail either.

Do what we say, not what we do.


It reminds me of the new courthouses that were just built in Albuquerque; they look fine, they work fine, but they are big towers in the midst of tree-studded concrete plazas and the surroundings blocks are completely deserted on evenings and weekends. Honestly, that would be fine with me, a slight step up from the Main St. courthouse area now. At least the proximity to DPAC would hopefully allow use of the parking garage on evenings and weekends; I have no illusion that this 'hood will see any other activity after working hours.

Joshua Allen

I agree this looks like a hotel. The biggest problem though is the parking garage. It's enormous.

Also, it seems that this will not only block the jail but it will also block the Hill building and the rest of downtown. To me the tall buildings should be inside the downtown loop with the buildings getting shorter outside the loop so they don't obstruct the view of downtown.

I'll take the view of the jail with the Hill building in the background any day over this monstrosity. I think we need to start over with a new architect.


Did they remember to include a spot for Superman, Wonder Woman and the rest of the Justice League? Sorry, but with an almost 4 year old who is obsessed with Wonder Woman, that's what the term 'Justice Center' brings to my mind. Another big ugly hotel-like thing. Ugh.


I think the design looks great! The blue/green slate contrasts nicely with the reddish clay brick of American Tobacco.

The project is never going to please everyone, particularly the vocal minority of Durham bloggers that consider themselves to speak for all city and county residents. Further delays that come from nitpicking every design element will only cause the price of the courthouse to soar, possibly to $150-200 million dollars. The taxpayers can't afford another "signature" building like the WW1-style courthouse. They just don't build them like that anymore, at a reasonable cost.

Just approve the damn thing with minimal changes and get started on it while we can still afford it. If you are so adamant about getting your architectural elements incorporated into an ideal design, then you should be willing to pay for it in the next re-valuation!


For anyone interested:

Albuquerque Metro Court:

Bernalillo County Courthouse:

The map of their "justice center" vicinity:,+Albuquerque,+NM&sll=35.091839,-106.650247&sspn=0.002067,0.004678&ie=UTF8&ll=35.092454,-106.650317&spn=0.008269,0.018711&z=16&iwloc=addr

I'd hope that Durham's would be a little more lively than this area gets, particularly because the major thoroughfares are on its edge rather than running through the middle.


The elimination of retail spaces on the ground floor is a huge planning mistake. People working at the facility need to eat lunch and have places to shop within walking distance. There isn't a drug store anywhere close by. Other businesses in the area will suffer from the lack of foot traffic generated by more retail space.
The parking deck should be underground. With an opportunity to have something inviting people to the downtown area this design keeps people on the road and in their cars.
With the new performing arts center so close there is an opportunity lost to have more restaurants in the downtown area. Unless one has specific business at the courthouse no one will be sticking around to see downtown.
This design is keeping Durham behind the times.
Nice try, but it really misses the point of re-vitalizing the area. Durham just can't seem to commit to a plan that is cohesive with the needs of it's city


I agree that not having a cafeteria in the courthouse is a big mistake. Not all employees will be able to afford to go to lunch at most of the fancier restaurants that are bound to sprout up across the street at the future SP complex (old Elkins car lot). It wouldn't hurt to see a King's Sandwich Shop-type establishment, retro-style, in or next to the new courthouse. I don't think that's too much to ask to help the working people.

Having the parking lot underground would likely double the cost of the courthouse. People who need to be at the courthouse will want to get in and get out as quickly as possible. They're not going to want to hang around downtown ater paying their fines and sitting in court all day. The parking deck serves a practical purpose and looks attractive the way it is. The fact that it is so prominent gives visitors one less thing to worry about finding a space as they come off the freeway.

Costs and delays are going to be expensive, especially when the jail next door will need expanding soon due to the "hopefully" more efficient turnaround of cases in our new courthouse. Scrapping the proposal and hiring a new architect to start all over so that everyone is satisfied just isn't going to go over well with Durham Taxpayers when we get asked to foot the final bill. The county commissioners need to get a backbone, stand up for the silent majority, and hold the line over any more added costs and delays of a project that is desperately needed now.


Why not leave enough space for the wrapper buildings and sell those parcels to a developer? The developer could simply lease "X" number of parking spaces in the deck with a long-term lease. There are multiple scenarios which really aren't complicated public-private partnerships. The County likes to pretend this stuff is rocket science. Why has it been done successfully in so many other cities?

The County's idea of a "progressive" deck is one with a lot of ornamental elements (fancy brickwork at American Tobacco South Deck or the trellis/vines on this proposed deck). These are nice touches, but I'd take solid urban design over fancy architecture any day. I find it a bit ironic that the most progressive parking deck in downtown Durham is owned by Ronnie Sturdivant. Maybe he can lead us to the Promised Land.


"Why not leave enough space for the wrapper buildings and sell those parcels to a developer?"

I was thinking about that too.

On a related note, where will the law offices and bail bonds offices go? I assume they would want to leave Main Street and be close to the new courthouse.

Michael White

I love the way that the architects opened up the street frontage on Mangum. With so much tall construction going right up to the street, the courtyard area will be a wonderful addition. I also think the view from Mangum evokes the same feel as the Hill Bldg so it ties in well to existing downtown design elements.

So what if it 'looks like a Sheraton'? Would you rather it look like a jail?


"The project is never going to please everyone, particularly the vocal minority of Durham bloggers that consider themselves to speak for all city and county residents."

Actually, none of us claim to speak for anyone other than ourselves. Got something different to say? Start your own blog. It's so simple, even i could do it.


"The elimination of retail spaces on the ground floor is a huge planning mistake. People working at the facility need to eat lunch and have places to shop within walking distance. There isn't a drug store anywhere close by. Other businesses in the area will suffer from the lack of foot traffic generated by more retail space....
With the new performing arts center so close there is an opportunity lost to have more restaurants in the downtown area."

Have you been downtown lately?

There are two drugstores already on Main St - Gurley's and Main St. Pharmacy.

And there are quite a few cheap restaurants downtown, each serving something different - Parrish St. Grill, Guajillo's, Ninth St. Bakery, Subway at the courthouse, now Saladelia at the ATC - plus the slightly more expensive places - Toast, Piedmont, Rue Cler, the buffet at the Marriot, Tyler's and Mellow Mushroom and the Symposium at the ATC, Blue Moon Catering, Blue Coffee Cafe, Bull McCabe's. Heck, McDonald's isn't even more than a few blocks away, easily within walking distance. Brightleaf is close by too, with all its restaurants, and it's definitely walkable - my coworkers and I walk there from our office on the corner of Main and Corcoran.

I guess people at the courthouse can't walk a couple blocks to get something to eat?

Kevin Davis

Thanks for the comments, all. A couple of thoughts.

First off, I agree with Michael White and some others that, overall, this is a very worthy addition to the downtown skyline. The height is outside the city center but should be very compatible with the high-rises that Scientific Properties is planning for the site just south of the courthouse on Dillard.

@GreenLantern: You think the comments of a few bloggers is going to stall the project design? Either you have way overestimated our influence, or I've way underestimated it (and ought to be trying to get some kickbacks and graft, dammit!) I think the former is the case.

This project is basically fully baked and ain't changing. Last night's was (I believe) the only, or at least the last, public input meeting. This wasn't a conceptual plan brought for initial review, it was the final design, basically. (It's entirely possible broader conceptual conversations were held months or years ago, lest I be seen as impugning the good folks at the County.)

My concern with the deck, to echo one of the Anon's above, is that it really is bad urban design and this stuff isn't hard to figure out. Forget leasing wrapper space. Let a private developer build the whole deck, wrapper residential/office space and all, and lease back the deck parking spaces to the County. Really, that's no different than bond borrowing for the County, I assume -- though of course, the numbers would have to work (i.e., could they get an interest rate as low as what they'd get selling tax-exempt muni's?)

To the question of where the bail bondfolk and attorneys will move: Andy Rothchild from Scientific Properties and Jim and Michael Goodmon from Capitol Broadcasting would answer that question, but they're too busy drooling over their keyboard at the proposition of dozens of new tenants for Ambacco and the Elkins/Johnson site and the Venable, leasing tens of thousands of square feet of space in their complexes...


It is my understating that the folks at Scientific Properties who are developing the mixed use "Elkins project" want the county to build a large parking deck as an indirect subsidy for their project. The description for their project is on their website.
at the bottom of the page.

Durham Bull Pen

@ Michael White: The choice isn't limited between "look like a jail" or "look like a Sheraton."

Anyway, it just looks like a bland boxy hotel building.

My real concern is making it a 'green' building, and pedestrian and people friendly.

I wonder if other courthouses of this size do not provide a cafeteria? Seems like that would be basic.

Michael White

DBP, my point was that the building will have to 'look like' something. What's wrong with it looking like a high end hotel?

After all, isn't that what the Hill Building will be in a few years?


You won't have to wait long for the focus to be taken off the courthouse architecture! Pretty soon, Durham will actually look like a city with over 200K population! And without Franklin Wittenberg involved, we may even get it done this time.

From the SP website:

"NEW MIXED-USE DEVELOPMENT located on Mangum Street
With architecturally stunning, environmentally sustainable LEED-certified high-rise office towers, a full-service hotel, corporate conference facilities, luxury residences and a unique assortment of restaurants and boutique retail offerings, Mangum Street will offer tenants and visitors alike a virtually unrivalled combination of extraordinary functionality, environmental responsibility and sophisticated amenities. Defining the new downtown Durham skyline and visible for miles around, the Mangum Street high-rise towers will directly overlook the Durham Bulls Athletic Park and the new Durham Performing Arts Center, and provide dramatic views reaching across the entire Triangle region. Development to begin Spring 2009."

I can't imagine more developers asking for more parking decks funded by the city/county! We've already reached that "critical mass" of activity and public parking inventory with the courthouse deck and the adjacent decks at American Tobacco. At some point--now Rothschild gets the lucky draw--private developments demand private investment in parking decks.


It's easy to be an architectural critic, but the material palette and proportions of this building aren't really the problem here. The problem is the lack of site context for this enormous building. Plunk it down on the site of the Civic Center or the Woolworth Building, and it would be fine. Even the much ridiculed jail building (same architect, by the way) really isn't all that awful, except that it’s white and ten stories taller than anything anywhere near it. This building will simply obscure a freeway view of one white elephant with a much bigger one.

I find the county's lame excuses for ignoring urban design guidelines that they impose on other developers more than a little disingenuous. Considering Scientific Properties' plans for the adjacent land, this is a rare opportunity to create a street with activity on both sides - something that's practically non-existent in downtown Durham. Just as they did during the review of the human services complex on East Main Street, the county is choosing to ignore the public input that they pretend to solicit.


Emily - i don't think the issue is distance so much as it is crossing the railroad tracks that run between the "old" downtown and the new ATC district. It's one of the most pedestrian unfriendly configurations you can imagine in a downtown district.


-The parking deck does not need to be underground - that is an unnecessary expense. But there is nothing keeping them from jacking it up one floor so 1st floor retail could be added fcing the street. Just lease the space out - it can't be that hard. Jurors and staff need somewhere to eat within a reasonable distance, especially with no cafeteria IN the building. It is poor planning to build this huge building with no allowance for how people are going to eat.

-Why is this being called a 'Judicial Center'. Why not reject the PC terminology and call it the Courthouse?

-It is ironic that 2 of the same County Commissioners who voted to build the ugly white jail highrise are now pushing for an even taller building that is wide enough to hide the jail...


Can anyone tell me what the differencea will be between the SP Mangum St. high rise and the one proposed by Greenfire?

Kevin Davis

@Allen: "Can anyone tell me what the differencea will be between the SP Mangum St. high rise and the one proposed by Greenfire?"

Word on the street is there's still interest -- how much driven by the City, I don't know -- for a signature building with a corporate HQ for the Woolworth/Greenfire site. That's a tough fish to land, though Raleigh did recently with RBC Bank. (That's also how the Durham Centre, A.K.A. People's Security Life Insurance Co. Tower, got built -- until Monumental bought up the company and it left the tower monumentally empty.)

Greenfire is talking about multiple mid-to-high rises, including residential, a hotel, and office space. I actually think that with the courthouse, they're in a prime location to attract offices for attorneys and the like, though that class of tenant ain't going to pay the high Class A that, say, a major corporate law firm like Williams Mullen, which just leased 75k sq. ft. in the Raleigh RBC Center.

Given Greenfire's interest in building residential on the city parking lot near the old courthouse, I wouldn't be surprised to see The Big Lemanski try to acquire up lots of property east of Mangum as the courthouse relocates. It'd be a great arts/residential/retail district, a la the arts district in Winston-Salem, since the spaces are just more appropriate for that kind of tenant. That would leave the Woolworth and Elkins sites competing for more of the office tenants.

Honestly, I think Scientific has positioned themselves well in terms of the courthouse draw. Wild card in this race is Capitol, both in terms of lease up for the proposed Diamond View III -- also steps from the courthouse -- and in terms of whatever they end up doing with the rest of Phase III. Residential has been the plan, but they've arguably got the best site to work with, between the original Ambacco and the DPAC.

One thing is clear in all of this: Downtown's center continues to move south, which opens up interesting new opportunities in both the city center and the DAP district.


Maybe a Hotel should move into the Old Courthouse (sarcasm)...I think the design is the best a 11-Story Justice Center can look. And I'm glad that didn't stick to some Cary-esque formula of more bricks or adherence to current downtown architectural guidelines.

"In their defense, both county engineer Glen Whisler and county commission chair Ellen Reckhow noted that the much-ballyhooed concept of local governments providing street-level retail pads or allowing the decks to be "wrapped" with office space or residential as with American Tobacco's East Deck were difficult to accomplish under what both noted were legal constraints impinging on the possibility of creating such public-private partnerships."

This sounds more like we don't want to rather than its not possible. Honestly, I think the real answer is that such negotiations would delay the project. Now if they developed the deck like Ambacco East Deck w/ a spot reserved for development that would be nice.

A mid-block parking deck doesn't necessarily kill the pedestrian environment along as the next block has something attractive and alluring. There is not much of a N/S pedestrian environment in downtown. The most potential for such lies on Corcoran/Blackwell/Foster. Dillard St. could provide a future E/W then N/S pedestrian corridor through Downtown East.

Essentially, the deck will serve as a pedestrian demarcation point. BTW, does the Downtown Master Plan outline specific pedestrian-oriented corridors?

Chuck Clifton

Ok ... this design isn't a disaster (e.g., our new multimodal transportation hub -- what I like to call "Freelon In Space" -- clearly inspired by Brancusi's masterpiece with a lot lost in the translation). But we are spending too much money on this to not call it what it is ... it's a hotel plain and simple.

Justice centers (hereafter referred by their more classical term, "courthouses") create the space for the one of the most noble aspects of a society -- justice. As such they should evoke certain principles: strength, balance, wisdom (we hope), and a certain center of mass for the municipality. Standard architectural features that signify these principles are simply missing from this design (e.g., columns, gables, domes, etc.). Without at least references to these elements in the design it is not a courthouse. Instead it is a large, massing structure that inspires little other than "lots of bureaucrats spend your tax money here."

Additionally, as a long-term investment (read, "we'll have to live with this thing for a long time") new municipal structures should salute the great architectural aspects of a city's history (e.g., the Hill building) and tip its hat to new innovations that signify the city's aspirations (many of which are enumerated above). Again, a missed opportunity.

For those who say let's just build this thing and get on with it -- WRONG. It's our (i.e., Durham's tax payers) money, it's our skyline, it's our justice system, and we should have a real say in this ... not just one or two public hearings showing a design that's basically a done deal.

Were the designers of our new courthouse inspired? No, but clearly they did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night.

Michael Bacon

Regarding the deck, I think I'd be happy if they just put in 3000 sq. ft. of retail on the first floor only at the Dillard/Roxboro corner. Just having a presence on the corner would make a huge difference.

As for whether to approve it now or not, I say go ahead, if for no other reason than to avoid the looniness that will happen if Joe Bowser gets a crack at it.


It looks fine. Just build it before construction costs go up another 10-20%.

It's smart of the county to stay out of the landlord business ("wraparound" development). If there aren't state laws against this, there should be. First, the opportunities for political corruption are enormous. Second, parking garages don't have utilities (except for the deck lighting they stick in at the end of construction), so this is separate construction at whatever the current price is (a lot more than for parking garages).

Some people on this blog think there are commercial opportunities here that are being ignored by the county. Well, if anyone had come forward during the preliminary drawing phase and said to the county "Shove the parking deck back 50 feet on Roxboro and Dilliard, I want to build shops and offices", it would have been approved instantly, probably along with a 20 year property tax holiday. The reason this didn't happen is because courthouses (stop calling them "Justice Centers"!) are not congenial places. There's traffic during the day, but the people at the criminal courts don't have any money. The people at the civil and traffic courts all look like they want to fight somebody. The happiest group in the building is the jury pool (!), and they're all sitting around praying for last-minute plea bargains and settlements so they can get the hell out of the most dismal and depressing environment (the courts) that they're ever exposed to.

Not exactly the let's-have-some-fun groups you see at Southpoint and on 9th Street.

If you want a "street scene" you have to create it yourselves. The vast majority of people over 30 in Durham are home at 9PM and in bed at 11PM. They have the money, the votes, and the power. If you're waiting for the government to create this for you, you're going to have a very long wait.

Kevin Davis

Hurley: Yours consistently strikes me as the kind of aw-shucks, Durham-can't-be-any-better attitude that marks much of the bad old days of decision-making around here.

For the record, there's a couple of developers who've commented on this thread. Not sure if you're in that boat, though I'd be curious to find out if you are.

In any case, why the heck would anyone want to rent apartments right near the jail, on the north end of American Tobacco? Wait -- those have leased up quickly.

Why would a large art gallery have gone in on the east side of Roxboro, in sight of said jail and a funeral home/abandoned U-Haul site?

Others know more of the history between the county and developers than I, so I'm going to leave that part of the discussion to them. I understand that others have asked similar questions about the parking plan for the human services building.

And, for goodness sake, drop the "create it yourself" lecture that smacks of pop conservatism. What makes you think the folks commenting on this topic aren't doing exactly that? It is possible for cities to have vibrant downtowns -- see Asheville and Charlotte for two examples -- but doing so requires having reasons for individuals to want to walk around and not have blank spots where no activity occurs. That's just good urban planning design.

Like I've said, I'd love to know whether the County reached out to private developers to build and operate a deck/mixed-use structure, with or without incentives. Clearly that can be done, like at American Tobacco. Was there any effort to do this? Perhaps there are good reasons why not, but it would be good to know them.

The comments to this entry are closed.