Downtown Chapel Hill Experiencing Better Summer Business

Things are looking up for the downtown Chapel Hill area, as local businesses are claiming to experience a record-breaking summer.

Chapel Hill Mayor, Mark Kleinschmidt, spoke with WCHL’s Aaron Keck about the success stories from such local businesses he has heard and how the town’s economy is growing.

“There’s so much more activity,” says Mayor Kleinschmidt. “There’s so much more life happening in these really slow days. This town economy is really starting to steer towards a 12-month year, and it’s really exciting.”

With the amount of recent developments in downtown, including the amenities of 140 West, Mayor Kleinschmidt says that simply talking about the growth has even played a role in how members of the community participate in making the area bigger, better, and more exciting.

“As people moved in, it raises expectations,” Mayor Kleinschmidt says, “and the fact that the people are thinking about that gets them downtown, and because they’re downtown, it does become what they say.”

Mayor Kleinschmidt says that though he has not heard much about as many closing businesses, he says that the few places that do go out of business have for more understandable reasons.

http://chapelboro.com/news/business/downtown-chapel-hill-experiencing-better-summer-business/

Tar Heel Downtown Set To Rock Franklin Street

CHAPEL HILL – The national spotlight will be on the Tar Heel football team for a Thursday night contest against the Miami Hurricanes on October 17th. But the bright lights won’t just be cast on Kenan Stadium.

Tar Heel Downtown will bring the focus to Franklin Street for pregame festivities from 4 to 7 p.m., showcasing the best the Town of Chapel Hill has to offer to a national and worldwide audience.

The event, staged on West Franklin Street from Columbia to Mallette streets and centered at the 140 West Plaza, will hope to showcase the unique college town atmosphere of the University and Chapel Hill community.

Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt announced the big plans on Monday. He says he is excited to welcome ESPN and the entire country to the streets of downtown Chapel Hill for a “party worthy of that attention.”

“This particular event makes me particularly excited, because this time I am going to be inviting all of my fellow Tar Heel fans from across the region to come out and help us put on a great show for millions of viewers from across the country,” Kleinschmidt says.

Planned and coordinated by the Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership, UNC Athletics and The Town of Chapel Hill, this fun, free, family-friendly event will be covered by ESPN. A Tar Heel alumnus, John Skipper, runs the leading sports broadcast company.

UNC Athletic Director Bubba Cunningham says Tar Heel downtown will be a great opportunity for folks around the country to get a glimpse of the character and cozy atmosphere of Chapel Hill.

“What I really hope that ESPN does is be able to highlight what a wonderful town Chapel Hill is. In all of the surrounding buildings, what we’ve been doing on Franklin Street, I think it is a great way for us to allow a lot of people throughout the country to see what Chapel Hill is all about,” says Cunningham.

Mayor Kleinschmidt says one of the attractive qualities of downtown Chapel Hill is the entrepreneurial mindset of so many business owners, continually branding and re-branding their businesses to offer new and improved services to students, residents and visitors alike.

When asked about the possible crazy atmosphere surrounding the huge national event on Franklin Street, Cunningham and Kleinschmidt offered up some advice.

“We want as many fans to come, but don’t be any worse than you are on Halloween,” Cunningham says.

“That’s setting a pretty low bar,” Kleinschmidt replies. “That means you can come have a good time. We’ll have fun.

At the event, there will be live broadcasting during the Countdown to Kickoff Radio Show on Franklin Street and live performances from Liquid Pleasure, Carolina Cheerleaders, and the Marching Tar Heels.

In addition, bounce houses and face painting will be provided for children while Carolina giveaways will be provided by the Rams Club and Carolina Athletics.

http://chapelboro.com/news/unc/tar-heel-downtown-set-to-rock-franklin-street/

Bicycle Apartments To Bring Hundreds Of Students Closer To Downtown Chapel Hill

CHAPEL HILL – The Bicycle Apartments—a $20-million student-housing project less than a mile from Downtown Chapel Hill—broke ground Wednesday morning. Town leaders say it will re-invigorate the Downtown economy in more ways than one.

Meg McGurk is the executive director for the Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership.

“Students are such a vital part of our local economy. Having them in a well-maintained, well-managed living community right Downtown is really tremendous. It’s going to be a great impact for all of us,” McGurk said.

Trinitas Ventures LLC, a national developer of student housing communities, is backing the project. The plan is to knock-down the existing three, 2-story apartment buildings at the Central Park Apartments location at 602 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.

194 apartments — or 608 units— will be built in its place. The complex was designed in compliance with the LEED accreditation system.

“This is what we call student housing by design. This is a unique property for Chapel Hill. There isn’t a complex like this yet so this is groundbreaking. This is something that is needed in our community.” McGurk said.

 

Hard Hats

Bicycle Apartments Groundbreaking Ceremony

 

The property management staff will live on-site in the complex.

“We thought this would be a perfect opportunity to bring a product where we can re-develop a space and build a by-design complex that is close to the students, close to the center of campus, and close to the center of town,” said Travis Vencel, the vice president of development for Trinitas Ventures.

Aaron Nelson, the president and CEO of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce, says he’s excited to bring more students closer to Downtown.

“600 students will be with-in walking distance to the center of Downtown,” Nelson said. “The businesses there are very excited about it because there will be more shoppers, more eyes on the street, and more people coming to and from campus. We’re bringing students in from other communities where they are living right now.”

Nelson says it’s a good time for Downtown Chapel Hill. 140 West, the eight-story $55 million development on Franklin Street, opened last month. The building contains 140 residences and 26,000 sq. ft. of retail.

“Downtown is in a renaissance right now,” Nelson said. “We’re getting additional housing, additional retail, and more restaurants—so it is really an exciting time for Downtown.”

The Bicycle Apartments are slated to open in 2014, just before the beginning of the school year.

http://chapelboro.com/news/development/bicycle-apartments-to-bring-hundreds-of-students-closer-to-downtown-chapel-hill/

Downtown Parking Dilemma

Recently I was able to get together with a dear friend to catch up on each other’s busy summers.  We were able to work out a day when we were both free for lunch and after some back and forth about our options we agreed we’d like to go to one of two downtown restaurants but neither of us, we agreed, wanted to “deal with parking”.

After elaborate logistical planning allowing me to do a necessary errand and then meeting to travel in only one car (to ease the parking search), my clever companion arrived to collect me.  She came with a plan, basically it was an escape route.  We agreed on one circuit through downtown looking for parking and if it wasn’t meant to be, well then, we had a Plan B, and a yummy one at that.  And one with a parking lot.  Let me say that many times Plan B has been my first choice and is very yummy separate from its convenient lot.  

I’ll jump to the end of the story because where we parked is not the point of this column.  We did one circuit and found a nearly empty lot.  We looked at each other and it was if finding an oasis in the desert.  We soon found out why it was empty between noon and 1pm on a weekday:  the broken credit card reader in the payment machine.  We scrounged enough change to get us through lunch, parked and enjoyed our luck, our lunch, and our conversation. 

Of course the point is that we had money to spend, wanted to spend it downtown and were dis-incentivized to do so.  We got past our misgivings and it worked out but notice that I considered it luck.  And the luck came from broken equipment.  

There are a few truths I must offer in the ongoing conversation about downtown and parking:

  1. My friend Dwight Bassett, Chapel Hill’s former Economic Development Officer, used to tell me there’s more public parking than ever available downtown.  I believe him.  
  2. I loved living in and near New York City where there’s no expectation of finding parking anywhere ever. It never kept me from eating in a particular restaurant. 
So why the attitude I describe above?  Part of me thinks it’s because I’m spoiled with being able to go many place by car and park- easily – for free.  But the NYC example points to the opposite; I was quite willing to use my feet, the bus and/or subway and, if in very high heels (I was young), a taxi.  I can’t resist adding here that while parking violations are quickly written in Manhattan, I don’t remember seeing tow trucks waiting for someone to cross the street in order to tow a car. 

Taken together, I’m starting to form a better understanding of the contradictions at the crux of this dilemma.  Now it’s your turn to come up with the answers!  Leave a comment below or write to me at Donnabeth@Chapelboro.com

http://chapelboro.com/columns/savvy-spender/downtown-parking-dilemma/

Cell Phones, Towing, & Teachers

Back in April I wrote about the Chapel Hill Town Council (CHTC) banning both handheld and hands-free cell phone use by drivers (with limited exceptions).  

The point of my column then was not to root for distracted driving; it was to point out the pointless use of public (staff) time and money in defending this law, when the CHTC had an opinion from the North Carolina Attorney General’s office that it may be unenforceable.  Yes, the opinion said “may”.  It didn’t say “not”.  But with the scales of justice tipped against you and lots of other priorities facing the town, I questioned the decision.  

Turns out both the Attorney General’s office and I were right.  Don’t you just love how I managed to puff myself up there?  Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson’s reason was in line with the AG’s office opinion: the town can’t enact laws where state law is comprehensive.  So, given that ruling, is this the finale of this folly?  Or should I prepare to stop listening to WCHL in the morning because that Ron Stutts fellow can be awfully distracting.  

In that same ruling Judge Hudson struck down the town’s law regulating towing.  His reasoning there was that it violates the state constitution by regulating trade.  

In Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt’s response (at bottom of this link) to the double loss in court, he spoke of only one: the towing ordinance.  I’m hoping his targeted response indicates his view of the town’s future priorities.

As to the towing regulations, we rarely hear from the businesses that contract with the towing companies.  Clearly the property owners must agree to allow cameras affixed so the towing companies can pounce the minute someone places a toe off property.  Do the property owners get a piece of the fee car owners must pay?  That would explain why they believe it’s in their businesses’ best interests to allow such practices.  I wonder if we polled those who’ve had their car towed from a downtown business if we’d find many of them had eagerly returned to spend money downtown, and more pointedly, to the business from which their car was towed.  Perhaps the business owners who encourage, condone and contract with towing companies are cutting off their proverbial noses?  Unless of course they are making money from the towing.  

Let me know what you think of my many opinions by writing to me at Donnabeth@Chapelboro.com

p.s.  I continue to receive an extraordinary amount of email regarding my previous columns (one and two) on the involuntary transfer of Chapel Hill High School teachers Anne Thompson and Bert Wartski.  Among the correspondents, Mr. Wartski, who has offered to waive his confidentiality rights with regard to the Chapel Hill Carrboro City School Board’s review and subsequent denial of his appeal of the transfer.  So, can we learn the whole story now?  

http://chapelboro.com/columns/savvy-spender/cell-phones-towing-teachers/

Framework for Change

A few weeks back I wrote about how a presentation from Chapel Hill Town Manager Roger Stancil had made it crystal clear that services would go down, taxes would go up or we could add to our tax base.  With that in mind I attended a presentation Tuesday evening on “Retail, Housing, and Economic Development in Chapel Hill” by the town’s economic development officer, Dwight Bassett.

The presentation was filled with information on our expensive cost per acre (highest by far in the Triangle at $175,067), our comparative tax base (lowest at 16%) and the market opportunities available to the town over the next several years.
 
Statistics are not a language in which I’m fluent so hats off to Mr. Bassett for making this comprehensible to me and also for making it interesting.  During the Q&A session following the presentation, someone referenced these comparisons and asked the fair question of (paraphrasing here) “But do we want to look like those other places?”
 
I found the answer in the drawings shown of the Downtown Framework and Action Plan (go almost to the end of the pdf linked to here).  In it, I saw a walkable, enjoyable, sociable space with greater access than there is now- no matter your preferred mode of transportation.  By creating more cross streets between Franklin and Rosemary, the town maximizes high ticket street frontage for developers (tax base help) while creating an approachable downtown with shorter blocks, more green space and likely drawing more places we all want and need to go. All this and a reduced dependence on residential property taxes?  Sounds good to me.
 
To go back to that question of whether we have to give up our character in order to be more fiscally strong, I say the Downtown Framework shows us we don’t.  We can maximize what’s available and still feel like the Southern Part of Heaven.
 
Where does this plan stand?  From a town press release: “The Downtown Framework remains a draft plan as work has continued to refine it and the Town Manager placed a hold on it as issues related to Northside and Pine Knolls were worked on.”
 
The only negative takeaway from the presentation came during that Q&A session:  Despite two entreaties that each person should ask only one question to allow for as much participation as possible, some people did not comply.  The town has gone to great lengths to make this a participatory process; let’s not stand in each other’s way.
 
Finally, a big thank you to the 2020 leadership for organizing so many of these educational presentations.  Chapel Hill has everything it needs to write and build a bright future.  
 
Do you have a vision for Chapel Hill’s future?  Please share it by participating in the 2020 Comprehensive Planning Process.  Thoughts on the post above?  Leave them below or write to me at Donnabeth@Chapelboro.com
http://chapelboro.com/columns/savvy-spender/framework-for-change/

FREE VALET PARKING ON FRANKLIN STREET

The emotions in my busybody took a rollercoaster ride last week for sure. So sad to hear of Cypress on the Hill closing. Now I must resume my search for homemade corned beef hash. If brunch places need to spice up their menus, let’s toss in that old school classic that Cypress had come very close to perfecting please. 

Very interested to learn about the new public parking lot at 427 West Franklin Street (between Lantern and The Courtyard) finally opening. The joy over using this lot for parking instead of something like a gorgeous tiny public greenspace reminds me that I can’t help but smile when I see the residents of Chapel Hill cruising around town in their little Priuses. Their engines are quiet enough for me to still hear the eternal kvetching about the lack of parking on Franklin Street. So much for the “free” buses and bike lanes, Chapel Hillians loooove them some free parkin’.

At the risk of inciting some contentious online chatter, I thought it might be a good time of year for a friendly reminder that the Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership offers FREE VALET PARKING at over fifteen locations on Franklin Street from East to West. Sure fancy pants places like Elaine’s and La Residence participate, but it’s not just the big ticket restaurants that extend this generous service to their customers. Mediterranean Deli, Carolina Coffee Shop and Sandwhich are just a few of the casual dining options that offer their patrons FREE VALET PARKING. Notice the all caps? Yes, I’m RAISING MY BLOGGER VOICE, because this is just another way the award winning restaurants in the heart of historic Chapel Hill serve their customers. All that great service, cold beer, fine dining and free parking? Awww, thank you! For a complete list of restaurants that participate in the FREE VALET PARKING program click here.

East End Valet Stand:  
Monday to Thursday – 5:00 PM to 11:30 PM 
Friday – 5:00 PM to 12:30 AM
Saturday – 5:00 PM to 12:30 AM 
The stand is located on the north side of the 100 block of East Franklin, in front of Spanky’s Restaurant.
 
West End Valet Stand:
Monday to Saturday – 5:00 PM to 11:00 PM 
The stand is located on the north side of the 400 block of West Franklin Street, near the West End Wine Bar.

http://chapelboro.com/columns/orange-zest/free-valet-parking-on-franklin-street/

Triangle Restaurant Week

Triangle Restaurant Week (TRW) launches today with over 70 restaurants participating in Wake, Durham, Orange and Chatham counties. Sure you could drive those nine utterly un-scenic miles to check out the participating locations in Durham (groan) or see what’s on offer in Raleigh and spend more money on gas than your dinner bill. But let’s face it, you’d enjoy that bottle of wine so much more if home was just a couple miles down the road. Chapelboro residents have 8 options worth a little exploration this week. 

 
Carolina Brewery – Chapel Hill, $15 lunch menu & $20 dinner menu
Carolina Crossroads at the Carolina Inn – Chapel Hill,  $30 dinner menu
Il Palio Ristorante – Chapel Hill, $30 dinner menu
Jujube – Chapel Hill, $15 lunch menu & $30 dinner menu
One Restaurant – Chapel Hill, $30 dinner menu
Shula’s 347 Grill at the Sheraton – Chapel Hill, $30 dinner menu
Tyler’s Taproom – Carrboro, $20 dinner menu
Weathervane – Chapel Hill, $30 dinner menu
 
The deets:
Triangle Restaurant Week lasts from June 6-12. Participating restaurants will offer a three-course, fixed price lunch ($15) or dinner ($20 or $30 depending on the restaurant); not all restaurants are participating in both lunch or dinner so be sure to call ahead. In some cases the TRW website lists the available menu selections, so be sure to check out the Triangle Restaurant Week site before making your selection, some menus are more compelling than others. No coupons necessary, but diners are encouraged to call restaurants in advance for guaranteed seating. 
 
http://chapelboro.com/columns/orange-zest/triangle-restaurant-week/