Rosemary Imagined attracts younger voices to town dialogue

Rosemary Imagined, the town's initiative to transform Rosemary Street into a more vibrant part of downtown, held its second event last night at TRU Deli + Wine. Unlike most town events I've been to, this event was held as a social, where attendees could mingle and talk about their thoughts on Rosemary Street freely among each other.

I was able to attend most of the event, and I have to give Meg McGurk, the Executive Director for the Downtown Partnership, and Dwight Bassett, the town's Economic Development Officer, major credit for succeeding in opening the engagement process up to people you don't often see show up for public meetings. Specifically, there were far more young people at this event than any town event I've been to in the past - and given how Rosemary Street and downtown appear to be developing with our town's sizable young population in mind, it's great to see that we're being included in the process of determining what Rosemary Street will become in the future.

This event invited folks to write on their nametag, instead of their name, what they would like to see for Rosemary Street. Folks were then able to mingle and discuss their ideas until it was time for those who signed up to pitch their idea for Rosemary Street in one minute. After the pitches, attendees voted via text for their favorite two pitches.

What I took from the conversation and pitches was that there appears to be, at least among those attending Rosemary Imagined events, an emerging consensus about what Rosemary Street could and should be. In particular, it seems like there is real energy to help Rosemary Street find its place in the downtown landscape rather than simply being a series of parking lots that support Franklin Street.

Several folks who pitched their ideas expressed a real interest in seeing "neighborhood" type retail on Rosemary Street, such as a grocery store/market, a dry cleaner, and clothing stores to support the people who live downtown (and who will soon live downtown in places like 140 West and Shortbread Lofts), as well as adjacent neighborhoods.

One idea that received many votes following the pitches was for a market at the corner of Rosemary and Columbia to replace the surface-level lot at the corner. Another idea that was pitched that could complement the market idea was for officespace for high-tech businesses on Rosemary Street, as there is existing (and underutilized) high-speed internet infrastructure available on Rosemary Street. This internet infrastructure could lead to the creation of new industries and jobs in downtown Chapel Hill.

Another suggestion offered by Linda Convissor, UNC's Director of Local Relations, was to utilize the natural topography of Rosemary Street for parking by "leveling out" the valleys with parking decks under buildings, similar to what UNC has done on campus with things like the Ram's Head Plaza. This idea could be useful to assuage parking concerns downtown should the many surface-level lots on Rosemary Street be turned into places to live, work, and shop.

In June, at the first Rosemary Imagined meeting, people were also able to share what they would like to see on Rosemary Street on their nametags. You can take a look at this list on the Rosemary Imagined blog here.

I'm optimistic about Rosemary Street and the potential it holds for not only downtown, but our town as a whole. There's great potential for diverse housing options, retail, and local business development, which will aid greatly in diversifying our economy, moving us closer to a more sustainable tax base, and making it easier and more desirable for our community's younger residents to stay residents long term.

One thing I particularly appreciate about the Rosemary Imagined process so far is how the discussion has, from the very beginning, focused on the community's hopes and dreams for what Rosemary Street can and will be. Far too often in town, we get bogged down in the potential complications and details of development or redevelopment rather than imagining the good that development and redevelopment can bring to our community. For now, at least, the Rosemary conversation is focused on the benefits of changing Rosemary Street and the problems these changes can solve, rather than the hypothetical problems and challenges that change could (maybe) bring.

So, what do you think? What are your ideas for what should be on Rosemary Street? Share your ideas here, and keep an eye on the Rosemary Imagined blog for upcoming meeting and event information.


I arrived late to the Rosemary meeting since I went to the Central West meeting first. (Was anyone at Central West later in the evening? I heard some folks were not talking nicely. While I was there everyone was communicately OK) I think Travis did a good analyis of most issues mentioned. One other desire I have heard for Rosemary is the completion of sidewalks on both sides of the streets. Also Rosemary makes a better East-West bike route than Franklin. If you are further South Cameron is the best.Loren

"Far too often in town, we get bogged down in the potential complications and details of development or redevelopment rather than imagining the good that development and redevelopment can bring to our community."Too many people associated with the other planning initiatives don't understand that design starts with purpose/vision. In the absence of vision, the conversations tend to bog down in details which result in people talking past each other (and costing the town a lot of extra money in consulting fees). 

Years ago when the planning for 140 West Franklin was beginning, the Town was also looking to redevelop Lot 2 (corner of Rosemary & Columbia).  The consultants at that time brought in a preliminary set of drawings for that site which I thought were very exciting.  It involved the Town acquiring the sites across from lot 2 where the current bank and the parking deck are.  It would then use the natural topography (as suggested above by Linda Convissor) to build a Transit Transfer Center on the lower level, with an escalator up to an open plaza and that topped by a building housing retail, offices and residences.The idea of a large open plaza on that corner with a functional transfer station underneath  was, I thought, quite exciting.Whatever we do on Rosemary should, in my mind, involve getting more jobs there.  We have a pretty good start at getting more folks living downtown (Greenbridge & 140 West Franklin essentially completed, Shortbread Lofts and Bicycle Appts underway, 123 West Franklin coming) but we need to get more folks working downtown in order to support the businesses we already have and the ones we want to have.  We need folks going out at their lunch hours to eat and shop in order to support our downtown retail.  Launch and 1789 are good starts but we need a lot more folks working near Franklin or Rosemary in order to support our existing and desired retail.  With folks on the street during the day, as well as the evening, an area can assume a whole other sense of vibrancy.

I think the Downtown Framework plan from 2010 included a transit center near that spot; the internets are running slowly for me this evening, so I can't pull up the study to find details, but it's located here: 

The Lot 2 transit center concept -- on which I volunteered to speak to a community forum on downtown way back then -- fell by the wayside when we decided to focus on Lot 5, now 140 West. A hotel concept turned up a few years later, on which the potential applicant never acted. The Downtown Framework plan had the transit center much closer to 140 West than Lot 2. Mark K and I discussed it with some of the folks at the Rosemary Imagined event. It's not a dead idea.  Ed Harrison


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