Downtown Carolina

The N&O reports that UNC is considering getting much more involved with commercial properties downtown. It sounds promising, but it raises some serious concerns. And I'm still a litle suspicious about the Mayor's hand-picked "steering committee" that has superceded the long-standing Downtown Commission.

As Chapel Hill officials focus on revitalizing downtown, UNC-Chapel Hill administrators are floating an idea that could give the university a large role in where shops, restaurants and businesses would go. ...In recent weeks, Nancy Suttenfield, vice chancellor of business and finance at UNC-CH, has been touting the concept of using a university foundation to invest in commercial real estate, with the notion of keeping the properties on the tax rolls and creating an opportunity to control how key buildings are used.

What do y'all think? What does the decapitated Downtown Commission think? What does the Chamber of Commerce think? (Given that they've changed their website from to, I can guess their answer.)



I would have no problem with UNC buying downtown

buildings, provided that:

UNC signs a binding agreement to pay the proper share

of property taxes (mamy people have said this)

and ( no one has yet discussed this)

commercial and retail properties remain commercial

and retail. UNC has an insatiable need for office space,

the nearer to main campus the better,

and I would not want to have a number of clones of

440 W. Franklin replacing the current merchants.

Finally, that the commercial rents charged by

owner-UNC don't exceed the current market value, and

preferably are lower than market value.

It is somewhat hyperbolic, but we don't want to see

the downtown become an office park any more than

we want it to be non-vital. We also don't want downtown

to be physically-beautiful-but-vacant-after-5pm as many other

NC cities have let their downtowns become.

I would image that the result might be merchants on the

ground floor with UNC offices on the upper floors.

I agree with Jeff. Voluntary agreement to give us a payment-in-lieu is like giving us a fish. A tax feeds us forever (theoretically). What guarantees do we have that Carol Woods and/or UNC won't change their mind?

Two words: Carol Woods.

When a non-profit moves into traditionally tax-generating activities, we need to beware the potential that those activities or properties may be removed from the tax rolls, ex-post-promises, which would increase the burden on the rest of us. (That's what's happening with Carol Woods, whose residents and directors are not exactly indigent.)

Everyone in Orange County should be very skeptical about UNC taking over tax-base properties. (There are also problems of a localized real estate monopoly.) At least a small part of downtown's problem has been UNC's trend, the past decade or two, of offering non-coursework shopping in university buildings. The UNC bookstore is a lot of fun -- but it's not just Barnes & Noble that drove the Intimate out of business.

Downtown Chapel Hill needs some help. A monolithic UNC may not be the answer.

Jeff Vanke


I agree with your general premise regarding the effect of UNC's purchase of former tax-producing properties, and the other problems that could come with increasing the University's invovlement in downtown development. But the Town has been addressing the general problem you associate with Carol Woods. The Town has often taken a payment in lieu of taxes approach to addressing this issue. Although Carol Woods is exempt from taxation, it continues to make a payment to the Town in lieu of taxes.


Carol Woods was asked to agree to do this in perpetuity, and it declined. I would rather rely on a legally binding arrangement, or better on legislation, than on the good will of executives who stand to gain hundreds of thousands of dollars.

This is a great thing, and I'm all for it. Hurrah, we're moving forward.

But this little part of the sentence struck me as a classic representation of how local government works (which is certainly not Mr. Hervey's fault):

"to discuss steps in the upcoming public process that is intended to put the Town Council in the position to consider development proposals"

Discuss steps ... upcoming public the position to consider...proposals...

It makes me tired just reading it, and it doesn't even get you to the decision point, which is somewhere lost off in the murky future. I know, I know, it's necessary and this is how it always is. It's democracy in action.

Still, I'm going to be irked if, when I'm 80, I don't have a public square in which to feed the pigeons and grouch at youngsters and harass that Cam Henderson guy who's always hanging around with his witticisms and pithy words of wisdom.

From a flyer I just got:



WHEN: 7 to 9 p.m. on Thursday, November 20, 2003

WHERE: Post Office/Courthouse Building at the corner of

Henderson and East Franklin Streets

The Town of Chapel Hill invites you to attend an upcoming meeting on a new

downtown initiative involving the potential development of two Town-owned

parking lots. The session will give key potential public partners, community

groups and citizens the opportunity to meet the Town’s new economic

development consultant and learn about the proposed steps in the process.

The Town Council has authorized contracting with John Stainback, managing

partner of Stainback Public/Private Real Estate LLC of Malvern, PA. He will

be present to discuss steps in the upcoming public process that is intended to

put the Town Council in the position to consider development proposals for

Town Parking Lot 2 at Rosemary and Columbia Streets and/or Town Parking

Lot 5 at Church and Franklin Streets. An early step in the process will be the

initiation of a Downtown Market Demand Study by Economic Research

Associates (ERA).

This session will be: Thursday, November 20, 2003 from 7:00 p.m. to 9:00

p.m. in the courtroom at the Post Office/Courthouse at Henderson and East

Franklin Streets.

For further information, please call the Planning Department at 968-2728 or email

Phil Hervey at


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