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Preservation Durham strikes deal for Liberty Warehouse redevelopment

Preservation Durham has dropped its opposition to removing the Liberty Warehouse’s Local Historic Landmark designation after reaching agreements with the building’s owner and prospective buyer.

The City Council is due to vote on removal at its meeting tonight.

According to Preservation Durham Executive Director Wendy Hillis, Liberty owner Greenfire Developer and East-West Partners, a Chapel Hill firm which has a contract to buy the warehouse, have agreed to address several preservationists’ concerns:

• Integrating the existing southern brick wall into the redevelopment plans by preserving the Foundry, Central Park mural and wall, but making strategic penetrations to allow for enhanced public connectivity and programming in Central Park.
• Incorporating of the northeast brick façade and LIBERTY sign into the redevelopment plans.
• Reusing old wood from the warehouse within the redevelopment and recycling that which is not reused onsite.
• Memorializing and documenting the Liberty Warehouse and the tobacco-auction business in Durham, either through an outdoor public exhibit or a dedicated museum space.
• Using architectural forms and materials that contextually relate to the surrounding area.
• A continued dialogue with Preservation Durham around the development of Liberty Warehouse that will include regular communication and meetings as the project proceeds towards construction.    
• Should East-West Partners not become involved in the Liberty’s redevelopment, Greenfire Development is committed to these same criteria.

Hillis and Preservation Durham President Josh Park negotiated the commitments with Greenfire Managing Partner Paul Smith and East-West principals Roger Perry and Bryson Powell.

“We have always recognized that Liberty Warehouse would be a difficult building to rehabilitate,” Hillis said in a prepared statement.

“Our concern has been that any redevelopment project intelligently assess the historic importance of the site and ensure that any new construction is appropriate within the industrial context of the neighborhood.”

Liberty Warehouse found 'in condition of neglect'

Planning Director Steve Medlin has declared Liberty Warehouse "in a condition of neglect" and ordered Greenfire Development to make repairs or face fines of $500 a day.

Medlin announced his decision today in a letter to Greenfire Managing Partner Paul Smith. It culminates a city investigation begun after the historic tobacco warehouse's roof collapsed in a heavy rainstorm last spring.

Medlin's letter requires Greenfire, which owns the building through its subsidiary Durham Liberty LLC, to develop a work plan and schedule in consultation with the City-County Planning Department by Feb. 29, and complete repairs by Oct. 15.

"Thank you, Jesus," said Debbie Pratt, a former Liberty tenant who was forced to quickly move a large art collection when the roof collapse led to the building's condemnation.

Smith was not immediately available for comment.

Fines begin if the company fails to comply with the deadlines. Noncompliance could also cost Greenfire the warehouse's "local historic landmark" designation and the associated property-tax benefit.

City inspectors, touring the building Feb. 8, found exterior walls and foundations deteriorated, sagging floor and roof supports, ineffective waterproofing and numerous other faults contributing "to a hazardous or unsafe condition."

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