Cradle & Arts Center Move

Guest Post by Ross Grady

Editor's note: This was originally written as part of a discussion on alt.music.chapel-hill about the proposed redevelopment of 300 East Main Street in Carrboro. For more background, see this Chapel Hill News article.

Most of us who actually live here have by-and-large seemed pretty optimistic in our assessment of this project.

I myself would like to get beyond the current namby-pamby weak-postmodernism that southern commercial architecture seems to be stuck in; it's neither vernacular enough to be useful in the South, nor interesting enough to be, well, interesting. (Like that white building at the western end of the project; I'd like to see more details of that one.)

I'd like to see structures that take advantage of the vast quantities of solar energy available to us here, like the new Club Nova apartments just a couple of miles further west do.

I'd like to see green roofs for stormwater control. I'd like to see where the bus stop is, how sheltered it is, and whether it will be possible for the bus to get completely out of the way of through traffic on Main St to do all the loading & unloading of people that one hopes would be required, considering we've got free buses in Chapel Hill/Carrboro & thus residents of the project & surrounding areas would have no real need to use their cars on a regular basis to get to/from it.

I'd like to see how the angled pedestrian plaza that aims at Weaver Street is actually going to connect to Weaver Street right through the middle of the most annoying (simultaneously pedestrian-, bike-, and car-unfriendly) intersection in all of Carrboro.

By and large I am optimistic, but at this point my optimism is mostly practical: I wholeheartedly support the idea of higher-density mixed-use development in the middle of our existing communities, which is the best place for it. Meadowmont and Southern Village are sorta nice ideas that are executed in the wrong places; those people still have to get in their cars to go to the drugstore, to the dry cleaners', to the library, to a whole host of other places.

This development is a great idea that is being executed in exactly the right place. I'm not convinced that the architecture is going to be anything other than ho-hum, but I'm willing to put up with that. Maybe I shouldn't be.

I think people are right to be wary of single-developer developments that span whole city blocks and attempt to incorporate faux-public spaces; certainly Southpoint is a good example of how evil such things can be when done in a wholly cynical capitalist fashion.

But I spent several years living in Houston, where there is no zoning whatsoever, and I can tell you right now that "the people," when left to their own devices, rarely spontaneously generate genuine/authentic "public" spaces, especially not in the middle of urban blocks, regardless of whether there's a single developer or a dozen different developers doing the design/construction.

I shouldn't have to remind y'all that the single most popular "public" space in Carrboro is Weaver Street Market, which is "public" only in the sense that the market is a co-op. There is nothing inherently bad about a private developer setting aside "public" space. There is something sad when fascist/pure-capitalist venues such as shopping malls become the de facto public spaces of our communities, but I'm not sure that's what's happening with this development; the "anchor stores" for this particular mixed-use development are apparently the folks who're currently there: the ArtsCenter, the Cradle, Performance (in a smaller retail-only space, apparently), perhaps Vis-Art.

Will there at some point be a problem with free speech/association issues on the pedestrian mall/outdoor amphitheater that will apparently be on private property in the heart of this development? That is a distinct possibility, and one we should be prepared to deal with, but it's perhaps premature to get too worried about that just yet.

Ross Grady lives in northern Chatham County and writes about local music at TriangleRock.com.

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Total votes: 248

Comments

Ross,
I was hoping this development would come up for discussion.
Your link says:
'Main Street Properties consists of five people, most of whom have been involved in the ownership of the shopping center for 20 years.'
I'm out of the loop. Who are these five people?

Mary:

The link you're referring to goes to one of the sites where Main Street Properties' site plan & etc are posted. I don't actually know who the five principals of the firm are; I just did a wee bit of Googling & came up short. Hopefully another poster will have more info.

It's worth noting that this issue has already been discussed, with some very good points made, last fall on OP.org, when the first public unveiling of the project took place. Here's that discussion: http://orangepolitics.org/2004/09/a-new-vision-for-downtown-carrboro-or-...

Finally, I'd like to reply to my own post by pointing out that one of the bits of information I just gleaned from reading that previous discussion is that green roofs, at least for the parking structure, *are* being discussed. While that's the sort of thing that it's relatively easy to discuss and then eliminate from the plan when costs start to climb, the fact that it's on the table at all is a good sign.

Ross

Sherman Richardson and Laura Van Sant are the two public figures of the five. I don't think it's a secret who the others are, but I couldn't tell you their names off the top of my head.

Kay Richardson, Margaret Menache, and Patricia Benedict are other three... Patti and Laura are involved in managing property now. Sherman, Kay, and Margaret were part of original group that purchased property in 80's for purpose of relocating ArtsCenter.
(Hmm...I don't know why I ask so many questions on this blog. It's so much smarter to go straight to the source!)

"I'd like to see where the bus stop is, how sheltered it is, and whether it will be possible for the bus to get completely out of the way of through traffic on Main St to do all the loading & unloading of people that one hopes would be required"

I missed the most recent open house, but at the first one, I suggested that a bus pull-in area isn't really necessary.

Normally a bus pull-in space is deployed:

1. In areas with high-speed traffic, such as on arterial roads with 35-45 mph and above speed limits.

2. In places where buses are likely to dwell for significant periods of time for layover points.

The ArtsCenter property, even if vastly refurbished, does not fit either criteria. Traffic speeds in downtown Carrboro will remain about 25 mph and under, and with a transit dwelling area likely to be built somewhere in downtown Chapel Hill soon, there is no reason to have another dwelling space a little over 1 mile away.

In this case, installing a bus pull-in space only serves to keep vehicles behind the bus from waiting a few seconds, and may actually work against the productivity of the transit system by forcing buses to make a difficult move back into traffic after unloading passengers. If the town also does the "complete streets" project which makes Main St one-lane in each direction, then a pull-in may reduce safety for pedestrians, motorists, and bus users as drivers try to "beat the bus" as it edges back into the flow of traffic.

So, in my opinion- keep the sidewalk full and wide, leave more space for cafe dining, build a great shelter, and plant some flowers.

The bus won't necessary be feasible for late night events and shows at the Cradle and Arts Center unless the buses start running much later--which, perhaps is a real possibility, since we're talking a few years down the road, but it shouldn't be assumed either. So (unfortunately), there will still be need for parking, even for folks just coming from the other side of Carrboro.

Right now, the traffic situation in that parking lot is ridiculous--you turn into VisArt/Cradle at the light, but then you don't have a light for leaving the parking lot, since the lot traffic is one-way. It's a confusing intersection. I hope this gets resolved.

My main concern (I couldn't make the open house and the maps aren't real clear on this issue) is where the bike lane will hit Main Street and if bikes/pedestrians can cross there with a light. If the bike lane hits in the middle of Main, in between two traffic lights, and bikes would have to cross that street without a light or go down the sidewalk (a no-no for bikes) to a traffic light, it doesn't make any sense. Bikes will just cut through the parking lot or something like that to make crossing easier. It wasn't clear that this issue has been resolved. So the bike lane looks pretty and thoughtful, it might not be particularly functional.

Anyone have more insight into this?

One of the things I've been kicking around about this: would it be possible to do something to start fixing the Weaver/Main Street connection via this project?

IIRC, the 20/20 plan included traffic circles. Would it be possible to work that into the plan in coordination with NC-DOT and the town?

Or is that just a pollyanna idea, given how long it takes to get road projects going here?

 

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