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Progress vs. Preservation

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DURHAM — Progress versus preserving history. It's a battle we've seen over and over as the Triangle keeps building and expanding. Usually it's preservationists versus developers. But, a debate in Durham pits a church against historians.

It all centers around one rundown, downtown building.

Preservationists say it is the only building of its kind still standing in North Carolina.

People who live and work along Main Street say it is an eyesore, and a magnet for vagrants, vice and violence.

St. Phillip's Episcopal Church bought the former bus station and plasma center recently, but they don't want any illegal activity on their property.

"Particularly when it might cause violence for anyone. That would be terrible for us as a church to have that experience so the status quo currently is non-acceptable," said Rev. Scott Benhase.

If a tenant cannot be found, the church would like to demolish the old building and make the property part of an outdoor sanctuary. But Durham's Historic District Commission has blocked the move until all efforts to sell the building have failed.

Broken beer and liquor bottles are everywhere, and the smell is terrible. But some of the city's homeless population likes to congregate here and they claim there is no harm in just leaving it all alone.

The homeless say they come there for protection from the rain, and that they can also catch day labor jobs from the site.

The church declares it is not in a fight with preservationists but they hope something will happen soon so they can have a more peaceful place on Main Street.

The church intends to cooperate with the Historic District Commission. But the hold-up is delaying the church's plans to invest more than $1 million in downtown Durham.

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Mark Roberts, Reporter
Edward Wilson, Photographer
Kay Miller, Web Editor

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