The DPD's new headquarters are looking more and more like a missed opportunity | Durham County | Indy Week

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The DPD's new headquarters are looking more and more like a missed opportunity

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Can't. Can't. Can't.

Were it not for the apostrophe, that word could have earned its own hashtag at Thursday's City Council work session, when the architect unveiled the latest drawings for the new $62 million Durham Police Department headquarters, to be built on the east side of downtown.

The city hired local architect O'Brien/Atkins, entrusting the firm with designing a headquarters that would not look like Gitmo on East Main. Even before pencil was put to paper, the city and O'Brien/Atkins held a community meeting in April to get input on the design. Then in May, the initial drawings were unveiled for public comment. Each time, a consensus emerged that the new HQ should have retail stores wrapped around the parking garage. As a gateway to East Durham from downtown, the building should not have a long, uninterrupted facade that sucks all life from the block. It should allow for development along Ramseur Street. It should save the historic Carpenter building. And for the love of Alcatraz, it should not look like a fortress.

After reviewing four proposed designs presented by the architect last week, council member Diane Catotti flatly stated: "We're not there yet."

Kevin Montgomery of O'Brien/Atkins had a rebuttal for several key ideas: We can't wrap the garage with retail because of security concerns; its width won't accommodate the size of stores. We can't build taller because it will add to the cost. We can't reduce the parking because all 445 staff spaces and 85 visitor spaces—the latter alone comprising a 20,000-square-foot surface lot—are necessary. We may not be able to save the Carpenter building because it could be too expensive.

However O'Brien/Atkins did not provide evidence—hard numbers, for example—to support these claims.

"We want estimates to go higher," Catotti said.

"I would like to preserve the Carpenter building," Schewel added. "What would the price tag be?"

Two of the four proposals do incorporate the historic Carpenter building. And all four include a public plaza, with the potential for public art.

But as Downtown Durham Inc.'s board of directors noted in a letter to Council, "we are frustrated that many comments and design feedback identified during this process were not incorporated into the design concepts."

For example, the four proposals ignore the city's 2008 Downtown Master Plan update, which cites several urban design principles, including that "cities must not have any more than 25 linear feet of 'dead' space along their sidewalks." The HQ parking decks, on the other hand, swallow 600 to 1,200 linear feet, which equals the length of two to four football fields.

"I don't like the Human Services building facade," said council member Steve Schewel, referring to the elephantine building just down the block. "If we have another facade and surface parking like Human Services, we will regret it."

Council member Don Moffitt noted that the parking deck doesn't "activate" Hood Street—in other words, energize it with stores and restaurants, destinations that will bring people to the area after 5 o'clock. "We'll look back and say, 'Short buildings and surface parking? What were we thinking?'"

We were thinking, "We can't."


New Durham Police Department headquarters

Size: 155,932 square feet on 4.5 acres

Where: East Main Street, bounded by Ramseur, Elizabeth and Hood streets

Price: $62 million

Parking: 445 spaces in a garage for staff, 85 visitor spaces

Includes: District 5 substation, bicycle and K-9 units, evidence/property storage, Emergency 911 services

This article appeared in print with the headline "The problem with 'can't'"

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