By Lisa Sorg
“It is not a jewel,” said Kevin Montgomery of O’Brien/Atkins architects, the firm designing the new Durham Police Headquarters. “Old does not mean historic.”
And with that, the old Carpenter Chevrolet was downgraded from 1920s diamond to 21st-century cubic zirconia. The building at Walker and Main streets dates from the 1923, and is in the way of the proposed new $81 million DPD HQ.
“I’m not sold on saving it,” said Councilmember Diane Catotti, at yesterday’s work session, noting that Council would likely be “heavily lobbied” this week to keep it.
Her colleagues, Eddie Davis and Cora Cole-McFadden, were equally skeptical of tapping into the city coffers for nearly $4 million when the money could be used for other projects.
(For cost comparison’s sake, the city bought the HQ’s 4.5-acre parcel for $5.7 million.)
Wendy Hillis, executive director of Preservation Durham, has long advocated for saving the Carpenter. As I reported for the INDY in April, it was listed on Preservation Durham's 2013 Places in Peril. Hillis pointed out during an April community visioning session that if you want historical connectivity between American Tobacco Campus to the west and Golden Belt to the east, then save Carpenter.
Certainly, there are problems with incorporating the Carpenter into the headquarter’s design: the floor height, HVAC and electrical systems, and probably the plumbing, considering about six weeks ago I walked by and huge floor fans were on full blast, drying the floor after a flood inside the building.
It’s not a good functional match, a lot like a horse-drawn Tesla, but as Bo Ferguson, deputy city manager for operations, noted, “it can be done.”
And the Carpenter should remain because the headquarters could have gone—and should go— elsewhere.
We would not be discussing the fate of the Carpenter and the headquarters’ potential to be the architectural bully on the block if the city had chosen a different location for the building.
In addition to the required environmental clean-up—aka years of auto effluent—we learned yesterday that because of the site’s soil characteristics, the building will need a deep foundation. That adds to the both the construction and overall costs, which have now ballooned to $81 million, up from the proposed $62 million.
Part of that expense is also the additional 36 parking spaces, which were to be surface, to the garage. (Surface parking along that stretch of East Main Street is not easy on the eyes, thus we want less, not more.)
Even with $9.6 million in savings—keeping certain DPD divisions such as property and evidence in their current locations—this is a sticky financial situation for the city.
“No money was created here,” said Councilmember Don Moffitt. “We just know the spending. It still hurts.”
While it’s likely too late to gnash our teeth about this now, it seemed clear from the get-go that the vacant 19-acre site on Fayetteville Street near N.C. 147 was a better fit. Besides the obvious problems with the four acres on Main Street, it’s a tight space with room for growth, whereas the alternative would have provided plenty of room for DPD to expand, if necessary.
“If I were a developer, I would not build on this site,” Montgomery told Council.
Updated for clarity: Montgomery was talking about the small triangle of land, but to be honest, it's not a bad concept to ask about the site chosen, too."
What he said.