by Billy Ball
Roughly 150 or so Durham residents craned forward to look Thursday night as Liberty Warehouse's prospective developers unveiled their site plan at the Durham County Public Library. The verdict? Not much surprise and a somewhat mixed reaction.
During a community meeting convened by Preservation Durham, builders from Chapel Hill-based East West Partners explained their intentions to convert the historic tobacco warehouse near Durham's Central Park into a 320,000 square-foot, mixed-use complex. Highlights include 246 apartments, 24,000 square feet of retail space and a 391-space parking deck at the project's center. At its tallest, the building will stand five stories.
Roger Perry, president of East West Partners, said developers will look to design a complex that retains some of the warehouse's historic charm, co-opting old signs and building materials to keep a resonant, if not identical, look. Builders will also look to retain the warehouse's historic brick wall facing Central Park, which they say will be cut slightly to help it "mesh" with the new development.
"That's what's important," Perry said. "Preserving the memory of the building. It's not necessarily preserving the building."
The developers say they submitted their site plan to Durham city leaders this month, with demolition slated to begin in May. Opening date for the development is sometime in early 2016.
East West Partners is behind a number of upscale Triangle developments, including Woodcroft in Durham and East 54 in Chapel Hill.
It's a sign of movement in a long-stalled warehouse, which is beloved by longtime Durham residents for its historic place as the last standing tobacco auction warehouse in the city. Meanwhile, the crumbling building has been a thorny issue for members of the Durham City Council, which stripped the warehouse of its historic landmark status last May to clear the way for demolition.
In recent years, the structure had been used as a space for local artists and nonprofits, but its been largely vacant since the roof collapsed in 2011. Liberty's longtime owners, Durham-based Greenfire Development, were dogged by negligence claims when it came to the warehouse.
Many of the locals in attendance Thursday indicated they were somewhat pleased with what they saw. Others grumbled audibly.
Meanwhile, Preservation Durham Executive Director Wendy Hillis told residents that, with efforts to save the historic warehouse all but lost, it's best now to focus on working with the builders to create a pleasing project. "That ship has sailed," Hillis said.
Expect a full rundown on the Liberty project and its implications in next week's Indy.