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Liberty Warehouse loses landmark status

May 21, 2013

In a move that should probably not surprise anybody, the Council voted 6-0 last night to strip Liberty Warehouse of its local landmark status.

I’ve mentioned the warehouse before (here and here), but the long and short of it is that current owner Greenfire requested and received the status in 2011 in an attempt to reduce its tax burden. Unfortunately, under Greenfire’s watch, the building suffered a catastrophic roof collapse which was deemed too costly to repair, and Greenfire has been looking for an exit strategy ever since. They subsequently petitioned to remove the landmark status to make the property more attractive to potential buyers.

The structure is the last extant tobacco auction warehouse in Durham, and much of the interior has remained in tact despite the collapse. It’s really a shame that Greenfire allowed this to happen, and it’s quite unfortunate that nobody could find any solution.

The landmark status was a hurdle for Greenfire’s proposed sale of the property to Chapel Hill developer East-West Partners (represented by¬†Roger Perry), whose contract to purchase the structure from Greenfire was contingent upon the removal of the designation. Landmark designation would have placed restrictions on any potential development of the site, and it’s unlikely that the financials would have made sense with it in tact.

The unanimous vote from the council comes after Preservation Durham lent its support to the new development plan, in which East-West Partners and Greenfire have stated an intent to retain as much of the facade as is feasible and create a museum on the site. It is important to note that without local landmark status East-West Partners will not have a legal obligation to these site elements, but it is presumably in their best interest to maintain a good working relationship with the community.

An interesting side show in all of this is that the Council has overridden the “Historic Preservation Commission,” which has the power to modify landmark status itself, but has failed to do so in the case of the Liberty Warehouse. I wouldn’t necessarily read this as a vote of no confidence in the Commission, but it does serve as a reminder that the buck ultimately stops at the council.

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