Nov 16, 2022 - News

Deciding what's next for the old Durham Police HQ

A mid-century modern building stands in the rain with traffic going before it.

The former Durham Police headquarters at 505 W. Chapel Hill St. in Durham. Photo: Zachery Eanes/Axios

Durham is still trying to figure out what to do with its old police headquarters building, after one potential plan was canceled during the pandemic.

Driving the news: Durham City Council met last week to discuss options for the 4-acre property. It has sat vacant — and fallen into disrepair — since the department moved to the other side of downtown.

  • The city is weighing whether to sell the property, sign a ground lease with a developer or develop the property itself.

Why it matters: The property at 505 W. Chapel Hill St. is one of the largest lots downtown under city control, a fact that gives the city leverage in what will be built there.

  • In recent years, the city has leveraged its land to attract affordable housing projects from developers, such as the nearby Willard Apartments.

It also sits at one of the main entrances to downtown — and council members have spoken of a need to make it an attractive landmark for the city.

Yes, but: The old police headquarters building — built by architect Milton Small in 1957 — is one of the few remaining mid-Century structures left downtown and preservationists are pushing hard for the city to save it.

  • The city estimates its preservation would cost it around $17.4 million.
  • "I believe that buildings can help us understand the narrative that got (our city) to where we are," the retired Durham Herald-Sun editor and preservationist Bob Ashley told the council.

What they're saying: Mayor Pro Tem Mark-Anthony Middleton said the property's future "may very well be…one of the most consequential decisions we make as a council."

  • "This is a 100-year decision," he added. "My contribution to the priorities is that this should be a signature corner. It should be a calling card for Durham."

Council member Jillian Johnson said her No. 1 priority is to continue to add affordable housing units to Durham's downtown core. "My lowest priority is the preservation of the building," she said.

What's next: The city council will take up the issue again in December.


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