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.