Local News

Durham condemns landmark warehouse after roof collapse

Posted May 17, 2011 6:47 p.m. EDT
Updated May 18, 2011 5:17 a.m. EDT

— Days after part of the roof of a warehouse near downtown Durham collapsed in a thunderstorm, city officials have condemned the building, forcing dozens of businesses to find new locations.

The Liberty Warehouse on Riggsbee Avenue dates to 1938 and once served as a tobacco auction house. In recent years, the historic landmark has been used as studio, warehouse and retail space for numerous businesses and nonprofit groups.

"The condition of the building has been a real issue for us," said tenant Mona Saul, who owns a company that makes office cubicles.

Saul said part of the building's 2.4-acre roof collapsed into her space last year.

"The roof actually caved in. You could look up and see the sky," she said.

Tenant Jim Nuss, who owns a theatrical set and prop company, said he was working Saturday when a storm hit and buckled part of the roof.

"(I heard) what sounded like this incredible roll of thunder, and then I saw, you know, sunlight," Nuss said. "I was surprised, but I knew it was coming."

He said Liberty Warehouse has had numerous problems with its roof in the seven years he's leased space there.

Michael Lemanski, managing partner of building owner Greenfire Development, said the developers knew the building would need lots of work when they bought it several years ago.

"It's kind of like plugging a dam. You figure out how to solve a leak in one area, and then, all of the sudden, you've got a leak in another area. It's a constant battle," Lemanski said.

Greenfire is working with engineers to figure out how to stabilize the building, he said.

"We feel really badly for the tenants," he said.

City inspectors condemned part of Liberty Warehouse last month because of concerns about the roof. Inspectors reviewed the situation after the weekend roof collapse and decided Monday to condemn the entire building.

Meanwhile, the condemnation notice means tenants have to leave. Many said they stayed at Liberty Warehouse because the rent there is low.

Ann Woodward said she has found temporary space for her nonprofit that reuses discarded materials to keep them out of the local landfill.

"We just have great neighbors, and they have space," Woodward said, adding that her organization has been raising money for four years to find another location and move out of the warehouse.

"We saw the writing on the wall, and we've been working on it," she said.

Saul said she isn't sure what to do, but she said she will have to shut down if she can't find a place and be up and running in a week or so.

"We are scrambling right now to stay up," she said. "We've got five full-time employees who depend on a check."