A recent inspection of a historic building in downtown Durham proves what city officials say they've known for years—that one of the structure's walls, slathered in striking kelly green paint, could buckle if strong winds whipped through the Bull City.
The building is a hazard to pedestrians, city officials say, and they've asked the property owner, Greenfire Development, to secure the building and fence the adjacent grassy area, where a Woolworth's department store once stood.
The building at 117 W. Parrish St. has been empty for nearly a decade, since a fire at a nightclub there gutted the interior and consumed the roof. Without a roof for all that time, the inside of the building has disintegrated. But outside, passersby have continued to use the park-like chunk of land beside it as a cut-through to businesses and as a resting spot, plopping down with lunch, a book or their dogs. By the end of the month, the privately owned land will be off-limits, as Greenfire has agreed to fence it by July 31, said Constance Stancil, director of Durham's Neighborhood Improvement Services department.
Greenfire has long-term plans to turn the property into a multistory office tower that preserves the historic building's original facade, but the company has not announced tenants for the space. City officials have consistently maintained that the building is unsafe and needs immediate repairs, so they hired a Raleigh engineering firm to study the stability of the structure. The report, released Monday to the Indy and other media outlets, found the building fails to meet state building codes, and that one of the walls wouldn't withstand winds of 90 mph, as outlined in state regulations.
Greenfire representatives didn't return phone calls this week about the report. But Stancil said they have agreed to cordon the area and present plans soon for interim repairs to the building. The temporary measures include shoring up the potentially risky wall and preventing any parts of the facade facing Parrish Street from falling onto the sidewalk—and pedestrians—below.
Greenfire's intentions haven't been put in writing, Stancil said. But the developer's agreement to act marks progress after a five-year battle between the city and Greenfire over the building.
City officials deemed it unsafe in 2005. When Greenfire acquired the property the following year, the city asked the developer to repair it or the city would knock the building down. Demolishing the building, however, would have cost at least a half million dollars, Stancil said. So, last year, the city considered filing criminal charges against the developer. But the city's efforts threatened to sour relations between Greenfire and the city during a time when other city departments were working with Greenfire to revitalize several other historic buildings downtown. City staffers were advised to resolve the issue out of court, Stancil said.
Across from the Parrish Street building and park, Greenfire has begun to redevelop the SunTrust building into a boutique hotel. Greenfire must begin construction at 111 Corcoran St. by July 31 to secure $4.2 million in financing and incentives from the city, which would be paid when the project is complete. The developer acquired the necessary construction permits from the city earlier this month, a major step to fulfilling its starting date requirement, said Deputy City Manager Keith Chadwell. The company's contractors plan to use the green space next to 117 W. Parrish St. as a staging area for the hotel project, so they might have had to fence the area anyway.
The engineer's report released this week was completed and presented to city officials and Greenfire representatives in May. City officials initially denied access to the information because, they said, the report was part of an investigation and might have been used in civil action against Greenfire, had the developer not agreed to fix the building.
In other Greenfire-related news, repairs on the Liberty Warehouse on Rigsbee Avenue have begun, said Rick Hester, assistant director of the Neighborhood Improvement Services department. The building's roof collapsed after heavy rains in mid-May, displacing several artists and nonprofits, including the Scrap Exchange reuse center. Afterward Greenfire was harshly criticized by building tenants and the public, specifically in how it offered nonprofits unrenovated space at lower rents, even though the roof has had problematic water leaks. Following the incident, Greenfire representatives said that in light of the criticism, they would reconsider renting properties that had not yet been redeveloped.