A new vision for downtown Carrboro jumpstarted

Last night about 80 folks met up with representatives from Main Street Partners, the company that hopes to redevelop the lot that currently is home to the Cat's Cradle, Performance Bikes, the Artscenter, Visart, and numerous other smaller shops and stores. I was actually quite impressed with the understanding the reps showed of the community. I think they realize that this project won't fly without early community buy-in. They also seem to be committed to finding ways to keep the current mix of tenants while attracting new businesses to town related to the music and publishing industries. I'm wondering if other folks have thoughts on this development? I'll reserve my comments for now so others can express themselves...



NOTE: You can see the site plan of the proposal on the Town of Carrboro's web site, and there's more coverage of Monday's meeting in the Chapel Hill Herald.

Apparently they are still willing to take comments. Simply email them at mainstreetproperties@mindspring.com

I was asked to repost my comments from the previous thread here in the new one, so here they are, expanded and slightly edited for clarity.

In general, I liked the layout presented last night– it could turn out nice, but it could end up feeling like The Streets at Southpoint. The central plaza looks good, but is it just going to be private space that pretends to be public space? How will they deal with post-show crowds from the Cradle hanging around at 2 or 3 or 4 in the morning? Will people in the 4th or 5th story apartments complain about the noise? One thing struck me as a little odd.. they (Main St. Properties) talked about the Artscenter and the Cradle as their anchor tenants, but also mentioned that neither could pay market rates for the square footage they'll be occupying, so the other tenants would have to subsidize them and effectively make up the difference. They want to charge $20-25 per square foot, which isn't completely outrageous, but there are storefronts on Franklin Street that pay more in the range of $12-15 per sq ft. For a small store of 1000 sq ft. space at $20-25, that's about $1700-2100 per month. At the same time, Main St. says they aren't interested in pursuing “Banana Republic” type tenants who could easily afford to pay those market rates. Laura Van Sant did specifically mention the possibility of micro-storefronts on the scale I was talking about in the previous thread (150 sq ft. or so) but it didn't sound like they would just build something like that without some specific interest in it. They seem very committed to making it possible for the current tenants to stay and for other local businesses to move in, but I got the impression that what is actually built will depend on how many high-rent tenants they can secure beforehand. One audience member lamented the loss of services from downtown (specifically mentioning a laundromat and dollar general store) and they seemed open the idea, but I think the proposed rent is going to preclude most businesses like that. In terms of the public input at the meeting, I was struck by the relative lack of interest in tenants.. most people seemed more concerned about parking and construction materials. Does anyone know if there going to be a way to submit written comments about this?

Here's a summary of comments from the meeting, from a word .doc I received from Laura Van Sant of Main St. Properties. She also says "feel free to pass suggestions along via email" to mainstreetproperties@mindspring.com.

Impact on streetscape/nearby neighborhoods

Five-story buildings could overwhelm the streetscape and block sunlight. The architecture of the buildings needs to fit in with the rest of downtown.

We'll design the buildings so that no four- or five-story structures sit on the street front. The buildings will have two- and three-story facades on Main Street, with higher floors set back from the street. We might do the same with some of the rear buildings to maximize daylight in the pedestrian plaza. We plan to vary both the heights and the horizontal planes of the buildings in order to present an interesting and compatible streetscape.

The architecture of the buildings will likely be somewhat varied because of the number of structures and the differences in their use. We'll work hard to ensure that the buildings on Main Street are appropriate for their context, and will bring elevation drawings back to a public forum for comments when we've got them.

Tenant diversity/affordability

Rental rates should be within reach of local start-up businesses and low-to-moderate income residents. Commercial space should be available to non-profits and teen-oriented uses.

The housing issue is simple: The town has affordable-housing requirements and we'll need to meet them to get project approval.

The affordability issue is more complicated with the commercial space, in part because we anticipate that nearly 10 percent of the new development will already be taken up with a non-profit – the ArtsCenter. We're still very early in discussions with the ArtsCenter over how to pay for their new space, but in all likelihood it will require a substantial subsidy from Main Street Properties, leaving little room to subsidize space for other worthy non-profits.

The good news is that local businesses can and do pay market rents. That's what we charge now and our shopping center now is 100-percent occupied by locally owned businesses and 30 percent of those owners are minorities. We'd expect that 70-90 percent of the commercial space in the new complex will be leased to local tenants. We'll also continue to have a wide range of office and shop sizes to accommodate various types of businesses.

Internal ambiance

This is a catch-all category for suggestions on how to improve the layout and feel of the pedestrian plaza and the complex as a whole. Among the ideas: lots of greenery, water fountains, bike racks and a children's play area; rooftop access for the public; and amphitheater noise control.

You gave us valuable suggestions here, along with some resources for helping out with noise and design issues. Rooftop dining is definitely in the cards, possibly at multiple locations. We hadn't talked about a play area before, but will throw it into the mix. Please keep the suggestions coming for specific features you'd like to see.

Vehicle and pedestrian traffic

Cars need more access points, possibly from Roberson Street, because Main Street traffic is so bad. Bicycles and pedestrians need easy access, and a wider sidewalk is more important than a bus lane.

We've kicked around the pros and cons of connecting to Roberson Street and haven't come to a conclusion yet. We want to keep the option open, though, and have begun discussions with the town, UNC and Norfolk-Southern Railroad about the railroad crossing possibilities.

Main Street is a mess now and this project isn't going to help it. The town will soon get a consultant's study about ways to improve downtown traffic flow, and we'll work with that to incorporate our project into whatever improvements the town makes.

We'll also be sure to include a prominent link to the existing bike path behind the shopping center.

"Green" issues

Use innovative stormwater-management techniques, irrigate with gray water, use pervious surfaces and take steps to reduce the number of cars on site.

We're still figuring out how we'll deal with stormwater runoff from the property, but our plans do include a "green roof" on top of the parking deck. Using gray water for irrigation could certainly save a lot of money in water bills, so we'll look into whether there's a feasible way to do it with so many different water users.

We know the surface of the pedestrian plaza is a crucial issue in this whole project, but haven't gotten into specifics yet other than ruling out grass because of the maintenance and downtime it requires. This is another area where specific suggestions would be most welcome. If you've been somewhere that had a great surface for a pedestrian area, please pass it along. Keep in mind, though, that the fire department will probably want access to the plaza in case of emergency, so we need a surface that can support a fire truck.

As for cars, we'd love to get rid of them all because the parking deck's going to cost a fortune. We do plan to charge apartment and office tenants for monthly parking, which will encourage alternate transportation. We don't think it's feasible to charge customers to park, because they've got too many other options for shopping and dining.


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