University Square Demolition To Start This Month

Big changes are coming to Franklin Street’s University Square starting this month.

“The construction fencing is going up as we speak, and it will look like there’s not much activity for several weeks,” says Meg McGurk, executive director of the Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership. “Then those three buildings in the front that are closest to Franklin Street will come down, and 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, as it will now be known, 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,” says McGurk. “So it’s really exciting.”

The $120 million 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 begins this month and 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.

Thorp: Be Confident In Future Of Town-Gown Relations

Pat Evans opens Thursday’s meeting of the Friends of the Downtown.

CHAPEL HILL – Outgoing UNC Chancellor Holden Thorp has long been recognized for having ushered in a new era of improved town-gown relations in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro community.

With his time at Carolina coming to an end next month, local leaders have expressed some concern about the future—but Thorp says he has every reason to believe that incoming chancellor Carol Folt will pick up right where he left off.

“So far Carol Folt and I have not had a conversation where we disagreed about anything,” he said at Thursday’s meeting of Chapel Hill’s Friends of the Downtown. “I believe she’s an academic first…she’s worked on behalf of Hanover, New Hampshire (while serving as interim president of Dartmouth College); she knows that the relationship with the community is important, and I have no reason to believe that she will change that.”

Thorp and his wife Patti were the guests of honor on Thursday: dozens of local officials and downtown leaders gathered at the Franklin Hotel to recognize their work to improve the town-gown partnership, both before and during his time as chancellor.

“They have done so much for the town,” said Friends of the Downtown chair Pat Evans, “working with the University and the Town together in a way that ‘town-and-gown’ has not been done before.”

Signs of that partnership include closer collaboration on real-estate projects like 123 West Franklin (the soon-to-be-former University Square); joining forces to promote start-up businesses with projects like LAUNCH Chapel Hill; working together to address the student-housing crunch and its effect on nearby neighborhoods; and—perhaps most notably of all—sharing responsibility for the ongoing Carolina North project, as well as the infrastructural improvements that project will require.

And amidst all his accomplishments as chancellor, Thorp says he’s particularly proud of that improved relationship.

“The work that we have been able to do with this community and on behalf of the town is among the most rewarding things that I’ve been able to do in my career,” he said Thursday.

And while his departure next month will mark the start of an uncertain new era, Thorp says it shouldn’t be hard to sustain that close partnership—since at the end of the day, ‘town’ and ‘gown’ are really one and the same.

“The first thing about university-town politics that people who work in the University needs to understand is that in a town like this, if the University is at odds with the elected officials in a college town, that means they’re also at odds with their own people,” he says. “This is obvious, but it’s surprising how many people don’t get that…

“It’s a false thing to say ‘the University is at odds with the town,’ because if you’re saying that, then the University is at odds with itself…so the first thing you have to do is not treat it as though ‘the University’ and ‘the Town’–especially here–are two separate things.”

Holden Thorp’s tenure as UNC chancellor comes to an end on June 30; in July, he’ll take over as provost at Washington University in St. Louis.