CHAPEL HILL – Change is in store for University Mall with a new movie theater coming in 2015, and some town leaders hope more change will happen just down Fordham Blvd.
Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt has made it clear that he wants to move forward with plans to transform the area around the Ephesus-Fordham Boulevard intersection.
With Tuesday’s news that the Dillard’s in University Mall will close its doors and a 13-screen luxury movie theater will open in its place, Kleinschmidt said now is the time to embrace change which he believes is necessary in both areas along Fordham Blvd.
“I think for one thing, the announcement [Tuesday] will remind folks that we are serious about working to enhance our commercial tax base and providing high quality retail,” Kleinschmidt said. “If we can help people understand that then we can move forward with Ephesus Church and Fordham.”
As part of a greater redevelopment plan for UMall, four new boutiques, a sporting goods store, and a restaurant have already or soon will be moving in. The shopping center’s Harris Teeter is undergoing a $9 million renovation.
Kleinschmidt said he hopes that the momentum which has pushed the transformation for UMall helps to push plans forward for the Ephesus-Fordham Focus Area—which is the space surrounding Ram’s Plaza near the intersection of Ephesus Church Road and Fordham Boulevard from South Elliott Road to the Chapel Hill Memorial Cemetery.
The Chapel Hill Mayor has said in the past that the area is hard to navigate and “dysfunctional.”
“A lot of what we have going on works, but a lot of what we have going on in that district isn’t working,” Kleinschmidt said. “We can’t just sit back. Lesser communities would just sit back and say, ‘Well some of it is working so we’re done.’ This isn’t that kind of community. We can do better.”
Dwight Bassett, Chapel Hill’s economic development officer, said that he and town staff are currently working to rezone the area.
In order to do this, using form-based code has been suggested. It’s a new planning tool that supporters, like Kleinschmidt, have said will make the development process more predictable. Opponents worry that it will move the approval process out of the public’s view. The plan to create a form-based code is still in its early stages, with no action from the council planned until next spring.
Bassett said that the redevelopment of the Ephesus-Fordham Focus Area would complement the changes coming to UMall and revitalize the look of the area considered a gateway into Chapel Hill.
“There are numerous developers less than a half-a-mile away willing to invest in office residential, retail and hospitality uses, and that certainly adds to this center by providing additional market opportunities,” Bassett said.
The Ephesus-Fordham Focus Area is one component of the Chapel Hill 2020 Comprehensive Plan that seeks to set a vision for the Town’s growth.