Plans to revitalize old Durham Police HQ in the works after years of vacancy

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Rusted railings and a worn-out exterior reflect a city’s sentiments surrounding a long-empty building on 505 W. Chapel Hill Street.

Once the Old Durham, North Carolina Police Headquarters, the site has been vacant since 2019, as per the city’s official website. However, change may be on the horizon.

During the city council meeting on Nov. 6, members discussed the fate of the building.

The council outlined six main objectives based on community feedback surrounding the future of the site, explained Assistant Director of the General Service Department for the city of Durham, Stacey Poston. These objectives include affordable housing construction, historic preservation, mixed-use development, signature design, historic placemaking and financial performance, she said.

As of the Nov. 6 meeting, six potential developers have been identified and are set to be evaluated based on their abilities to meet the objectives.

However, Rick Larson, a member of the Durham CAN, fears that the city will neglect what he feels should be the number one concern, affordable housing.

“The city has been treating revenue as the most important priority,” he said. “They look at every unit of affordable housing as a negative.”

According to Larson, the city is far more concerned about how the space will financially benefit Durham than how it could positively impact the community.

While acknowledging the city’s promise to devote units of affordable housing to the space, he explained that the units built would be affordable for only a select population- those earning a yearly wage of 60 percent of Durham’s median income, or $60,000.

“It’s affordable,” he said, “but not for bus drivers and a lot of other city workers. What we’d like to see are some units around 30 percent.”

Larson also expressed discontent at the city’s prioritization of office and retail space over community space, as the city has defined a minimum requirement of 250,000 square feet devoted to the former.

“Every thousand square feet of office and retail is another thousand square feet that can’t be devoted to housing and affordable housing,” he said.

It will only be a matter of time to see whether Larson’s hopes for a community-centered space come to fruition, as the steps toward development are in motion.

In the coming weeks, potential developers will submit their proposals regarding their intentions for the site.

Larson hopes that once the proposals are returned, the community will have more input into what it would like to see done with the space. Even so, he explained that it could still be years before any ground is broken. And the process will, by no means, be a cheap one.

“It’s a historic building,” he said. “It will be a very expensive building to rehab.”

Costly or not, city residents should look forward to the completion of a space that will, at the very least, be in use. Whether or not its primary purpose will serve as a community space or retail, however, remains to be seen.