Council approves East Main St. site as new home of DPDHQ

This site had been the front runner for a while, and according to the Herald the council sealed the deal last night:

City Council members signed off Monday on the choice of a site for Durham’s next police headquarters, agreeing to spend $5.7 million to buy a 4.5-acre property for it off East Main Street.

The city intends to demolish the historic Carpenter Motor Co. buildings as well as the small restaurant Not Just Wings which are presently on the site. Open Durham has an early drawing of the potential footprint.

The city intends to foot the bill for the project in part by selling off the old HQ, whose last appraisal came in at $5.1M. Still, the $4.5M price tag for the new East Main St. parcel was too high for Eugene Brown who provided the lone dissent in the 6-1 vote.

This sort of structure is typically built like a fortress with limited ingress and egress points, so you could expect for the streetscape to be pretty bleak. David Arneson of Center Studio Architecture brought up such concerns on the ABCD Durham mailing list, and presented two alternate layouts:



I don’t know how feasible Arneson’s alternatives are, but the idea of getting a usable streetscape on East Main St. here is really compelling. Councilman Schewel did respond and allay some of the fears regarding the setback for surface parking along East Main:

Of the several “fits” we saw for the site at the council work session, none of them included a parking lot in front of the building along Main St. I feel very comfortable in saying that the City staff planning this HQ are going to make sure that that doesn’t happen.

However the site ends up being developed, it’s now pretty certain that it will be developed. The opportunity available to citizens now is to help ensure it’s developed responsibly.

Another big question: what’s going to come of the old site? As of right now, it’s hard to predict, since we’re still several years out. I personally have kind of an affinity for the structure, which is in a style without much representation in Durham. It’s pretty safe to assume that the city will sell the site, and I really think it has the potential to be a lot more interesting than the generic student housing across the street at 605 West.

7 thoughts on “Council approves East Main St. site as new home of DPDHQ”

  1. There’s quite a bit development already slated for those parcels with frontage on Hood Street. Honeygirl Meadery just opened up there, and there’s rumors of another brewery going in right there as well (bldg under contract, in fact).

    Too bad Bull City Ciderworks is getting the boot as it’s on the to-be-developed parcel, or it would be an interesting new little brewery district.

    1. Indeed, one of the reasons I’m disappointed by this location for the DPD is that there have been lots of positive changes lately. I can understand how this area looked like a wasteland when they first started the selection process, but to me it seems like it was just about to turn the corner. Now it won’t get the chance.

      That’s not to say there won’t be growth on e.g. Hood going forward, but the police department “wastes” a lot of land that could have gone to private use and generates an imposing streetscape almost by its very nature.

      One thing I like about Arneson’s alternatives is that they “hide” the department a bit rather than letting it dominate all sides of the block.

  2. Reposting my comment on The Durham News ….

    While Mr. Arneson’s sketches are already much better than the ones initially floated for this site, it is still hard to understand why no one is speaking up for preserving some of the historic structures currently there.

    Durham’s brand, particularly when it comes to architecture and urban development, is a combination of adaptive reuse of historic structures at large, medium, and small scales (American Tobacco, 21c hotel, Brightleaf Square, Geer St. Garden/Cocoa Cinnamon/Fullsteam/Pit, Baldwin Lofts) in combination with well-designed modern structures (DPAC, Bull City Co-housing, etc.).

    Here there is an opportunity to find a way to adaptively reuse one of the last historic structures in the vicinity, while adding modern structures that complement them. As an added bonus, the blue and white color scheme is already appropriate for a police HQ, or the paint could be removed to reveal red brick.

    Additionally, if we take David’s well-presented ideas of good urbanism a step further, why must the DPD HQ entrance face Main St. directly? There are already too many government offices opening on this corridor of Main St. Allow private development to adaptively reuse the historic structure and integrate with new construction for the HQ as well as the “Not Just Wings” triangle.

    1. My perception is that preservation will never be a priority of the city – any will for it must come from private enterprise. The city repeatedly and systemically undervalues the potential for re-use of historic structures.

      I feel like the time to petition for preservation here has already passed. This site has been chosen. It will be done.

      As for the entrance facing Main, I actually thought David’s sketches were rather clever. The big problem with many government buildings is that they typically create “walls” on streets, but with David’s ideas that wouldn’t really happen. I don’t think there’s any inherent problem with having the entrance to the building on Main, if its impact can be kept low.

      1. I agree, Areneson’s sketches are clever. They help the issue. The problem is – the demand from private development is there for refurbished historic buildings. There’s a reason why American Tobacco is almost 100% leased. Same with Brightleaf Square and the existing buildings in the “Innovation District.” Same with West Village. But City staffers (I believe that council is relatively hands off on these matters and relies on input from staff) for whatever reason, and I really don’t understand why, don’t seem to be on board.

        The time for preservation has not passed – if we can get the city on board with subdividing their purchase for private development, the parcel could instead be subdivided around one or more of the existing buildings.

        The inherent problem with the entrance on Main is that is another space on the street that could one day house an entrance to a store, restaurant, bar, brewery, office, apartment building, whatever – all of which will be more valuable in terms of property values and in terms of good urbanism on a vibrant Main St that extends all the way from Brightleaf and beyond to Golden Belt and beyond.

        But the city staffers don’t seem to understand any of this. How else can you explain plopping down a 1 story police substation across the street from Central Park? Do we really need to be making a similar kind of mistake?

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