Durham: A Model of Responsible Redevelopment and Preservation

Reuse in Durham NCThe building materials reuse community is comprised of many individuals and groups – preservationists, contractors, policy wonks, developers, associations, reuse retailers, government agencies, and profit and nonprofit organizations. Most of the time these various entities fail to collaborate and cooperate. All too often they openly oppose one another.

For example, several years ago a local preservation society shunned a TRP offer to salvage materials from an historic building, after the society had lost a lawsuit to preserve the entire structure. We asked the society to publicly back our efforts to deconstruct the building in whole or in part. The preservation society refused, claiming that TRP was in fact a traditional demolition company that simply used a somewhat novel approach to destroy buildings.

In another instance, a major city refused to grant TRP a permit to deconstruct three houses that they acknowledged were historic yet chose to demolish in an effort to reduce neighborhood blight.

In both of these cases TRP offered to complete the deconstruction at the same cost as traditional demolition.

The business of preservation in Durham, North Carolina, stands in stark contrast to these examples. Massive redevelopment and smaller deconstruction and rehabilitation projects have been undertaken in this small city for years. During a recent three-day visit, I was introduced to contractors, bankers, business owners, architects and retailers who have individually and collectively changed the entire landscape of Durham. Here are a few examples.

Reuse in Durham NC

Brightleaf Square occupies two former tobacco warehouses originally owned by members of the Duke family. Construction of the two story post-and-beam warehouses was completed in 1904. Each floor measures 35,400 square feet. The warehouses were purchased in 1980 by SEHED Development Corporation, which engaged the architectural services of Eddie Belk (G. Edwin Belk Architecture). Their adaptive reuse plan consisted of ground-floor retail outlets with offices on the second floor. Construction was completed in 1981 and the center opened for business in November of that year. - See the slideshow

Reuse in Durham NCRichard Morgan has been salvaging materials from Durham buildings for over four decades. His store, Morgan's Imports, was one of the first tenants in Brightleaf Square. In 1991, Richard moved his business across the street to the old Durham Laundry. Al Frego, a metal artist, was hired to build the outside railings using pipes salvaged from the laundry's boiler. In 2008, Richard decided to expand the store by adding a mezzanine. The lumber used in that project was salvaged from the Cannon Fieldcrest mill in Eden, North Carolina.

In 1997, Richard bought an old warehouse adjacent to his store and completely restored it. Again Al Frego swung into action and created the metal stairs and railings, using more boiler piping and salvaged industrial exhaust fans. Richard recently leased a portion of the building to a restaurateur. The interior finishes were being completed when I was there. Salvaged flooring, tile and dimensional lumber used in the restaurant space were purchased from the Reuse Warehouse, a TRP retail partner in Durham. Materials for the bar and tables, as well as some of the old growth beams, are from the Cannon Fieldcrest mill. - See the slideshow

Reuse in Durham NCThe pinnacle of Durham's resurgence is the American Tobacco Historic District, where restoration and adaptive reuse have transformed a cluster of warehouses and factories dating from 1874 to 1902. Phase one of the restoration project was launched in 2004 and phase two was completed in 2006. The district now comprises one million square feet of mixed-use space on a 16 acre campus.

Jim Goodmon of Capital Broadcasting, owner of the Durham Bulls baseball team, first approached Durham officials about this redevelopment project in 1999. Goodman brought in Belk Architecture and together they recruited the help of restoration architect Mitch Wilds. The North Carolina State Historic Preservation Office was enlisted to ensure the plans would be approved by the National Park System, thereby ensuring the receipt of federal tax credits. Architecture firm Smallwood, Reynolds, Stewart, Stewart joined the effort as interior and site consultants, providing finishing touches.

Any words I might use to describe the visual and intellectual excitement the American Tobacco Historic District generates would be hopelessly inadequate. To get an idea of the district's expanse and innovative features, watch this slide show: - See the slideshow

Reuse in Durham NC

While in Durham I attended the May 4 grand opening of the Reuse Warehouse and was on hand to assist TRP Regional Manager Rick Morgan, who owns the facility. In addition to the usual doors, windows, cabinets, lighting and electrical fixtures, the warehouse stocks thousands of board feet of old growth lumber and houses a small woodworking and cabinet shop. In just a few short months, Rick has gone from one employee to three.

By the way, Rick is the son of Richard Morgan, whose store, Morgan's Imports, was described a few paragraphs back. Growing up with a dad like Richard may have destined Rick to a career of scrounging and selling used building materials.

As our regional manager in North Carolina, Rick's first job is to secure contractors to deconstruct buildings for TRP donor-clients. Gustavo Ocoro, owner of Ocoro Enterprises, recently completed his first deconstruction project, a two-car garage with living space on the second floor. Gustavo is so conscientious about reusing materials that he separated the drywall's painted covering from the underlying gypsum so that he could use the gypsum in his landscaping business. Credit for this first project also goes to general contractor Leon Meyers, owner of Leon Meyers Construction, who has established himself as a premier green builder in the area.

All of us in the preservation business have a lot to learn from our neighbors and friends in Durham.


The Oakland warehouse just received a shipment of pavers in a variety of subtle shades – all in excellent condition.



At the Los Angeles (Pacoima) warehouse, we recently received newer models of a Jacuzzi jet tub, nice bathroom vanities in different styles, lighting fixtures and other items from a La Jolla home – all in excellent condition.

  New inventory at partnering warehouses:

The ReUse Store, Sacramento CA: Unique old red-concrete blocks are selling for $.75/ea; 15 integrated solid-surface composite countertops with sink at right or left end. Great for production projects.



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