The old Holiday Inn on Chapel Hill Street (more recently, Urban Merchant Center) and the old Medical Arts building a block away at 306 South Gregson have been vacant for for years and years and look it. And some city council members are tired of it.
"I've been talking about this for years," said Councilman Eugene Brown.
"You're looking at 15,000 to 18,000 cars a day going by those. It's an embarrassment to Durham," he said.
The buildings afford vistas of boarded windows, broken windows, weeds and razor wire.
"That razor wire has driven me nuts for a long, long time," said Councilwoman Diane Catotti.
The issue came up today during a city council session on next year's budget. Constance Stancil, head of the city's Neighborhood Improvement Services department, had been talking about her department's push to get boarded-up houses fixed up and inhabited or torn down. City law says there's a six-month limit on keeping a house boarded over.
That prompted Brown to ask about commercial buildings. It's a sore spot for him, since the old motel property, owned by Diane Sturdivant and rimmed with razor wire for more than a decade, stands right across the street from his real-estate office. The medical building, owned by William and Patrice Fields, has been vacant for a similar length of time.
There's a two-year limit for commercial buildings, Stancil said. And there is a process for persuading owners to improve their eyesores, and if satisfaction is not forthcoming for the city to take action on its own.
And there are complications, she said. For example, the old motel was tied up in probate for after Dianne Sturdivant's late husband, Ronnie, was murdered in 2008. Dianne Sturdivant has plans for the building, she said, and current policy is to work with owners: "We're trying to move away from demolition to stabilization."
Some owners, though, "are really recalcitrant," Catotti said. "It might be time for a big stick. Or past time."
Big sticks can get expensive. Some owners, though, "are really recalcitrant," Catotti said. "It might be time for a big stick. Legal action and demolition to rid Durham of the old Holiday Inn, Stancil estimated, would run $1 million or so.
Catotti responded, "We could afford to be a bit more threatening."