Will East Main Street resemble an ocean dead zone or a military checkpoint? Will the Carpenter Building survive? Tune in tonight at as City Council votes on the new Durham Police Headquarters.
Since the community visioning session last April, the public has repeatedly insisted that the new DPD HQ:
a) not look like a bunker or a fortress
b) save the Carpenter Building
c) allow for private development to enliven the street
So far, the architect's five options exceed the proposed budget ($81 million compared to $62 million), yet still fall short of what's architecturally possible on this four acres of primo real estate. The city and the architects have cited security concerns, the need for parking, the cost of saving the Carpenter Building ($4 million), yada, yada, yada, as restrictions on their vision for the site.
Meanwhile, Preservation Durham and Durham Area Designers met with the City last week about their proposed hybrid plan that by my reckoning, makes sense from an urbanism standpoint and saves the Carpenter Building, while addressing DPD's security concerns.
"The headquarters will be the physical embodiment of the DPD and its relationship with the community," writes Preservation Durham on its website. "If impenetrable security, large 'defensible zone' setbacks from public streets and private development are the primary design criteria, then East Main Street is clearly the wrong site for these buildings."
In other words, let's not allow the building reflect the personality of Chief Jose Lopez, whose public persona, anyway, is defensive. (I've met Lopez in private, and while he can be more amiable, he's definitely touchy.) The relationship between city police and Durham, especially communities of color, is tense. A building that embodies and amplifies that tension is unlikely to function as a gateway to East Durham.
Under the Preservation Durham/DAD proposal, more than 55,000-square-feet of private development, including the Carpenter Building, and open space—not DPD HQ—would flank East Main and Ramseur streets, which addresses the dead zone issue. The sale of this portion of the property could also help offset the budget overage.
DPD and the parking garage is situated in the interior of the development, yet has some buffering via parking and open space to assuage security concerns.
Preservation Durham, whose job it is to help save historic structures, wants the City to keep the Carpenter Building. Even though at a recent Council work session, the architects said the 1923 structure is "not a jewel," he group cites several reasons why the Carpenter should not fall to the wrecking ball:
1) It was one of the first car dealerships in North Carolina. (For a while in the 1920s and 1930s, this was auto row: Down the street, the Durham Housing Authority is in an old Ford dealership.) "The fact that these buildings are not listed in one of our historic designation lists is an oversight, not a reason to raze them," PD writes on its website.
2) A private developer could rehab the building more cheaply than $4 million, particularly if it could be listed on the National Register of Historic Places, which qualifies it for federal tax credits.
3) Incorporating the Carpenter Building into other retail, residential, restaurant uses on the site will help connect underserved East Durham, which is so close, but feels so far away, with prosperous downtown.
Read the most recent chapter of the saga before attending tonight's meeting. It starts at 7 p.m.