Town Council Considers Franklin Street Development

After issuing a request for proposals, Chapel Hill will investigate the financial impact of a proposed six-story development on Franklin Street.

“It’s about 95,000 square feet,” said town manager Roger Stancil. “With the first floor being a retail, music venue-type use, the second floor being office space and music venue-type use, the third floor being office space.”

Floors four, five and six will be dedicated for affordable housing. Each floor will have 13 affordable housing units.

Still in the early stages, the potential development would be at 415 W. Franklin St., which is the current location of a public parking lot.

“To make this project work requires a parking deck to be built to add parking capacity to downtown,” Stancil said. “The proposal is to build a 450-space parking deck to replace approximately 150 existing surface spaces.”

The town currently owns the space where the building would be, but mayor Pam Hemminger said the town does not own the space where the proposed parking deck would be.

She said there was still a lot the council needed to know before making a decision on the property.

“There are property tax implications, which will be part of the financial model,” she said. “There’s also parking income versus leasing versus how it all shakes out whether the town ends up owning the lot or whether the developer ends up owning the lot.”

The town council unanimously approved a motion to allow Stancil and the town staff to continue learning about and discussing the possible development.

Stancil said in June he would present the council with his findings.

At that point the council would decide whether or not to proceed with the development.

Chapel Hill Police Warn Against Bonfires Ahead of Potential Celebration

Celebrating on Franklin Street has become a tradition after a big Tar Heel victory. But that tradition means more work for Chapel Hill’s finest, who close down the street for the celebration. And if Carolina wins the national championship, Monday night will be no exception.

Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue said these events usually go off without many problems, but he is particularly concerned with one form of celebration.

“We are concerned about bonfires so we try very hard to keep flammables out of the celebration area. As you know, we don’t get all of them and invariable bonfires are set and people jump over those fires,” said Blue.

Blue said that along with alcohol-related incidents, fires present the biggest concern for medical staff.

“Every time we have a celebration that involves bonfires, people get hurt,” said Blue.

Blue said police would take measures to prevent the fires from starting in the first place.

“One of our number one priorities is minimizing the volume of combustible and flammable material that gets into the event,” said Blue.

Street crews also spray the street with water to lower the risk of fires.

Blue said they treat the Final Four like planning for two Halloweens, which attracts thousands to Franklin Street each October.

Blue said he appreciates the relationship between the police and those trying to celebrate.

“I think that spirit of cooperation and that kind of sense of community around these events, that’s unique,” said Blue. “You can look at post game celebrations in many communities and see that they don’t always go smoothly, and I’m knocking on wood, but in our community they generally go pretty smoothly. And I think that speaks to our long track record of responsible celebration and I look forward to keep that alive this year.”

Police shut down Franklin Street on Saturday night after UNC’s victory over Syracuse. Fans filled the intersection of Franklin and Columbia but a much bigger celebration can be expected if the Tar Heels win on Monday.

Protesters Shut Down Franklin and Columbia Streets

Scores of protesters occupied the intersection of Franklin and Columbia Streets in downtown Chapel Hill Tuesday night, in opposition to the General Assembly passing House Bill 2.

The protest began at the Peace and Justice Plaza on Franklin Street then proceeded west down the street until reaching the intersection with Columbia Street. The protest shut down traffic for several hours.

There, the protesters formed a circle while giving the opportunity for individuals to share their experiences of being a transgender person in North Carolina.

Listen to Chris Grunert’s report from the rally against HB2:


At one point, about two hours into the protest, police attempted to reopen the street and allow traffic to pass through, but a small group of individuals sat in circle in the middle of the intersection refusing to move. But, after a short time, the dozens of protesters that had moved to sidewalk soon moved back into the street

Organizer June Beshea said it was part of the plan.

“I’m excited at this moment,” said Beshea.

She was planning on staying until she was made to leave.

“I hope that get rid of the bill, I mean the law, but I’m going to get that I am going to get arrested tonight.”

The police let a few buses through but shortly afterwards, those that had move to the sidewalk returned to the street, where they continued to chant.

Traffic was blocked for almost three hours before the protest ended. No arrests were made.

During the protest police blocked the road and directed cars to turn around until allowing traffic to pass through at around 9:30. The rally concluded back at the Peace and Justice Plaza.

Franklin Street was even lined with rainbow flags.

Crepe Traditions Opens on Franklin Street

A new restaurant opened its doors with a ribbon cutting ceremony on Friday.

Crepe Traditions sells sweet and savory crepes for all occasions, along with coffee and other items.

“I see food as lightening you up,” said owner Sree Valluru. “You have something tasty in your mouth that goes into your stomach it’s just lightening your whole day.”

Valluru offers a number of traditional and non-traditional crepes, but perhaps his most outside the box invention in the PBJC.

“We have our chef’s favorite PBJC which is a unique concept,” he said. “Peanut butter and jelly with chicken.”

He said he has not heard of another restaurant selling anything like the PBJC.

“We have sweet and we have savory so we thought okay let’s have a combination of sweet and savory in a single crepe,” he said. “That’s how the whole thing came about.”

Valluru lives in Cary, but said he loves coming to Chapel Hill.

“I’m a huge Tar Heel fan and Chapel Hill is like my second home,” he said. “I come here pretty much every day. I support the teams, I cheer for the teams and Franklin Street is where I’ve always wanted to do something.”

TOPO Distillery Celebrates New Law

Top of the Hill owner Scott Maitland had a lot to celebrate last week.

The same day that his son Andrew was born, the North Carolina General Assembly passed a law that allows distilleries to sell one bottle of liquor per person, per year

“The final bill passed on Thursday, five minutes after my son was born,” he said. “So I kind of felt like I was giving birth to twins.”

The Top of the Hill distillery on Franklin Street sells craft spirits, such as whiskey, vodka and gin. It is now allowed to sell some of its liquor at the distillery and celebrated with an open house.

The first legal liquor bottle sold outside of the ABC system since 1909 was sold to North Carolina state senator Rick Gunn Thursday morning. Gunn sponsored the bill and helped get it passed.

“We’re super excited,” said TOPO distiller Keith Crissman. “We feel that we now have a chance to get our spirits out to the public”

Before the law was passed, all liquor sales were handled by the ABC commission, meaning anyone wanting to purchase liquor would have to do so at an ABC store.

Despite only being allowed to sell one bottle per person per year, Crissman said he thinks the new laws will make it easier for people to try craft spirits.

“People recognize the quality that craft spirits can bring,” he said. “They maybe want to pick something different than their parents or grandparents drank.”

Maitland said he expects the new laws to help with local tourism because it will make distilleries a more attractive place to visit.

“Whether people are touring breweries, wineries or distilleries, but also diaries, they’ll say ‘hey I can come, I check it out and I can take a bottle home with me’ and that’s a big thing,” he said.

He said he thinks the next logical change is to allow a person to buy one bottle of each product per year, but said after fighting for years to get the current law passed, he would like to take a break and run his business.

For Maitland, the birth of his child and the expansion of his business is something he’s experienced before.

“I got the opportunity to buy (the distillery) right when my daughter was born, so I was reviewing documents while I was feeding her as a week old infant,” he said. “I think it’s really interesting that now Andrew is born and a week later we’re having this event.”

Armed Robbery Reported on Franklin St

Chapel Hill Police are investigating an armed robbery from over the weekend.

A man was robbed at knifepoint early Sunday morning on Franklin Street, according to a report from Chapel Hill Police.

Lieutenant Josh Mecimore says police received a report of the armed robbery just before three o’clock.

“The victim reported that two white males approached him and asked him if he had any drugs,” Mecimore says. “He replied that he didn’t and then they, in his words, began roughing him up, showed a knife and took $350 cash from him.

“It sounds like he spent 30 minutes trying to find them and then eventually came across an officer that was working downtown and reported the robbery.”

The report states the man was assaulted in the alley behind Fitzgerald’s Irish Pub at 206 West Franklin Street.

Mecimore says the victim was unable to provide much more than a vague description of the two suspects beyond that they were white males.

“Early-to-mid 20’s,” Mecimore adds, “both around 5’9” tall, couldn’t give a build or weight, no clothing description on one and then the other was in a blue shirt and blue pants.”

The victim suffered minor injuries, according to the report.

Anyone with information regarding the incident is encouraged to contact Chapel Hill Police.

Demolition at U-Square is Underway

Demolition is underway at the newly-named Carolina Square on Franklin Street.

Meg McGurk, Executive Director of the Chapel Hill Downtown Parternship, says big changes are coming.

“Those three buildings in the front that are closest to Franklin Street will come down, and then construction of the new buildings will begin.”

For decades the downtown strip mall just west of Colombia Street was known as University Square, then later called 123 West Franklin.

The new Carolina Square will include 246 apartments, 159,000 square feet of office space and 42,000 square feet of retail as well as one acre of green space and a parking deck with 880 spaces.

McGurk says it’s the largest downtown redevelopment in Chapel Hill’s history.

“It’s going to be a dramatic change for our downtown, a vast improvement and a better use for that site, bringing a lot of new businesses and people living and working downtown. So it’s really exciting.”

The project will consist of two six-story buildings and one ten-story building. Construction will start once the trio of buildings currently on the site is torn down.

Demolition will last through October.

Despite the complexity involved in tearing down what’s already standing, McGurk says you’re not likely to see any large scale explosions on Franklin Street anytime soon.

“I have begged to be able to blow up those buildings, but it will not be a massive explosion, even though I think that would be fun to see. It will be a typical deconstruction with machinery.”

The property is owned by Chapel Hill Foundation Real Estate Holdings, which is the real estate arm for UNC.

Developer Northwood Ravin will manage the residential side, while Cousins Properties will oversee commercial leasing.

To date, UNC has already committed to leasing 62,000 square feet to accommodate the Carolina Population Center and the School of Public Health’s Biostatistics and Epidemiology groups.

There are no changes are planned for the student housing complex Granville Towers, which shares the 11-acre lot with Carolina Square.

The full project is slated for completion in summer of 2017.

Why Are Some Trees Being Removed on Franklin Street?

Many of our readers and listeners have been asking us about the removal of some trees on Franklin Street.

So we asked Meg McGurk, Executive Director of the Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership.

“It’s part of the streetscape improvements on the 100 block of East Franklin Street,” she says. “And this is part of the Downtown Streetscape Master Plan that the Town of Chapel Hill adopted in 2009.”

McGurk says some of these same improvements have already taken place on West Franklin Street, Rosemary Street, and some of those connecting roadways.

She adds that they are working on improving many aspects of the sidewalk areas on Franklin Street.

“There has been limbing up of a lot of the trees,” she says, “and now there are some trees that have been removed, some raised brick planters that have been removed.

“There will be sidewalks rebuilt. Also, there are going to be trees that are placed back that have metal grates.”

The metal grates will help level the sidewalks of Franklin Street.

McGurk says one more feature that was needed to complete the project was additional bike racks for the many residents in our community that choose the two-wheeled form of travel.

“As a bike rider, there can never be enough good places to actually lock up your bike where they’re supposed to be, instead of attached to signs or trees,” she says.

“The streetscape improvements that have happened, and are happening, have really wonderfully opened up the street.”

The majority of the demolition has taken place this week, which McGurk says was intended to correspond with spring break at UNC, when there would be less foot traffic.

“In the coming weeks, you’re going to see the rebuilding of the sidewalks, the installation of the bike racks, [and] the newspaper bins and trash cans being moved around,” she says.

A release about the project says work will go forward for an estimated five weeks, weather permitting. Sidewalk closures are not anticipated. There may be changes to bus stops. If that happens, officials say they will give advanced notice.

Varsity Theatre Over 50% to Goal for Digital Conversion

Technology can lead to amazing spectacles, but it also brings the possibility of turning some of our favorite experiences into memories.

The Varsity Theatre, with its historic marquee, has been a staple of downtown Chapel Hill for over 50 years. But technological advancements in movie making have threatened the future of the Franklin Street cinema. Paul Sharesian owns the Varsity Theatre and says the theatre needs major upgrades because of a transformation in the movie-making process.

“We hit the point where, if we didn’t convert to digital, we wouldn’t be able to show films anymore,” he says, “because they’re not producing them on 35 millimeter [film].”

That problem, and some helpful ideas from the Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership, resulted in a Kickstarter page to help the Varsity with the renovation costs.

“We did a blast campaign during the Chapel Hill parade,” he says. “Then we sent a major e-mail blast. That was done through the Downtown Partnership, and that did a big bulk on the front end.”

With the goal of raising $50,000, Sharesian says they are well on their way.

“So far it’s been great,” he says. “We’re over 50%.”

They settled on $50,000 because, based off of estimates, that is how much it will cost to convert one screen from 35mm to digital.

Sharesian says that they have special offerings for anyone who wants to donate to their campaign, including concessions items, movie tickets, and t-shirts. And, of course, the more money you give – the more you get.

Sharesian says that any money raised above their $50,000 goal will go toward converting the second theatre.

He adds that they have been overwhelmed by the support from the community.

“We really thank the community, obviously, for the donations,” he says. “When we introduced it at the parade, people were all over it. They were behind us. That was a nice positive feel to get to that.”

As of January 1, the Varsity Kickstarter had over 450 backers, totaling over $30,000 in donations, with just over 40 days remaining in their campaign.

You can help the Varsity Theatre covert from 35mm to digital – and get some great offerings – by visiting the Varsity’s Kickstarter page.

Protesters Briefly Block Franklin Street After Grand Jury Verdict

About 60 people marched down Franklin Street on Wednesday night to protest a New York grand jury’s decision not to indict a police officer in the death of Eric Garner.

Chapel Hill Police spokesman Josh Mecimore said some officers were on hand to escort the group as they marched from Peace and Justice Plaza to University Square.

“Our entire involvement was in blocking the street to keep cars from being able to drive into the area where those folks were gathered, and then once they were out of the street we opened the street back up,” says Mecimore. The demonstration lasted about an hour.

More demonstrations are planned in Durham on Thursday and Friday.