We have recently heard complaints about the painting over of the mural on the side of 108 Morris, the building we purchased and are restoring in Downtown Durham. I am personally distressed at this response. I see now, in retrospect, where we needed to work harder to discuss our decision with the community. In our enthusiasm to bring more life to Downtown Durham via ground-level retail space and offices for our staff, we were blind to what the public response might be to the mural. Its removal was not a decision taken lightly and one done in consultation with the Historic Preservation Commission. However, we handled this poorly. We apologize for not making more efforts to include the community in this decision.
I do wish to emphasize that though we are moving from Carrboro to Durham, many of us are Durhamites, including two of three owners. Many in our small staff of 23 feel far from outsiders. We raise our families in Durham. Our CTO, Colin Copeland, is co-captain of Code for Durham, a volunteer organization dedicated solely to giving more access to public records information for the citizens of Durham. But again, our interest in Downtown Durham is not theoretical, but the place we are building our lives… so this building project is a deeply personal one. We want to see Downtown Durham continue to thrive.
Unfortunately, in restoring a long abandoned historic building that had been remodeled by many hands over the decades, we had to make sacrifices. To return the building to its original 1910 state, we needed to unbrick the windows which would also remove sections of Emily Weinstein’s 1996 Eno River mural. The mural would receive further damage around the windows by default. Our contractor told us (and we could see) the mural had begun deteriorating. We were as diligent as humanly possible, referring often to great resources like Endangered Durham and Open Durham for images of the original building in making the final decision. It was a difficult decision and one that we, of course, could not make alone.
We tried our best to not only preserve, but to add to Durham. We submitted our proposal to the Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) and they approved it during a public meeting in April. They had already approved a similar proposal from the previous owner of the building. During the meeting, those who knew better than us-- actual preservationists-- said that going forward with the window openings would do more to preserve the integrity of the building than the more recent mural. These layers of approval made us feel we should proceed with our focus on restoration.
To further ensure we were doing right by Durham, we voluntarily and eagerly followed the guidelines of the National Park Service and the North Carolina State Historic Preservation Office for exterior restorations. The State Historic Preservation Offices and the National Park Service review the rehabilitation work to ensure that it complies with the Secretary’s Standards for Rehabilitation. As residents of Durham, we were excited and motivated at the prospect of further burnishing Downtown Durham’s reputation as a historic center.
Now, we see that we should not have assumed that the community would see and understand our sincere efforts to improve Downtown Durham. We strongly felt that occupation and restoration of a vacant building would be welcomed. We had not heard complaints until yesterday which surprised us in part because our plans were public. We received one phone call we missed, but they did not respond to our return call. We are new to land development-- as a technology firm, we can safely say that it is not our focus. But we are made up of real people. We are a small firm that got its start thanks to the community around us, so again, it pains me to think we have hurt the community in any way.
In an effort to show our good faith and make amends, we’re planning on having a public meeting within the next few weeks. We are working to arrange a space for it, but will update you as soon as possible. We want to hear your thoughts and brainstorm together how we can better support our new home. We want to listen. We will also happily share with you how the restoration is coming along with photos and mock-ups of the space.
Please sign up to join our mailing list for updates and to find out when the public meeting will be: http://cakt.us/building-updates
Again, we are eager to hear your thoughts.
Sincerely, Tobias McNulty, CEO
UPDATE 9/16/14 - Thank you to the commenters below whom we have responded to personally. Please join the mailing list for updates. We look forward to contributing jobs and investments to Downtown Durham.