Mysterious acquisition

UPDATE: UNC is buying University Square and Granville Towers.

Anyone want to guess what this is about?

Representatives from UNC-Chapel Hill and the Town of Chapel Hill will hold a joint news conference at 1 p.m. today to announce details about a major real estate acquisition. The event will be held at the Chapel Hill Town Hall.

The news will have "significant positive implications" for the future of the downtown Chapel Hill business district, UNC officials said this morning.

Speakers will be UNC Chancellor James Moeser, Chapel Hill Mayor Kevin Foy and UNC Board of Trustees Chair Roger Perry.

- UNC, Chapel Hill mayor schedule announcement, 6/13/08

I got nothin'.



I am just guessing here...

  • UNC sells the storefronts/offices it owns on the 100-block of E. Franklin Street, to return them to local and state tax rolls.
  • UNC buys a municipal parking lot to build offices or a parking deck.
  • UNC sells the 440 W. Franklin building to the Town.
  • UNC buys the old town hall building that currently houses the IFC homeless shelter and soup kitchen, and does something more shopper-friendly with the space.
  • UNC sells Carolina Inn to a private party.
  • UNC buys old Post Office building???
Could this be a tit-for-tat on UNC's long-term loan of land on Homestead Road for the shelter that was announced last month?
Just my guess is McCorkle Place. I have no inside info. Just thinking its in downtown Chapel Hill, is near the business district, and has a big lawn. Chapel Hill would finally be able to make its own weaver street lawn. Again this is my wild guess. :)

All of my guesses were wrong. Shock.

I just learned (via Twitter!) that UNC is buying Granville Towers and University Square. Will they refurbish it or redevelop?

Not many answers in this quick report filed by Jesse James Deconto of the CH news/N&O:

 The UNC Chapel Hill Foundation will buy University Square and Granville Towers, two major properties at the main entrance to the state's flagship university, campus and town leaders announced this afternoon.

The 12-acre site currently houses three high-rise dormitories and two office towers with ground level shops and restaurants. The deal is scheduled to close July 1 for $45.75 million. UNC has not announced immediate plans for the property

"The University Square-Granville Towers complex is a sound strategic investment for the university, with great potential for playing a larger role in downtown revitalization," said Chancellor James Moeser.


I can't wait to see how the local papers investigate and analyze this deal. Oh wait. 

If the two together are worth $45 M, that must have been a big property tax bill for someone to pay.  How does this purchase help revitalize the downtown?

John Rees

Yeah, I'm going to have to hear a lot more about his before I buy that it's helping the town. In fact, it feels more like UNC is eating our downtown.

Will there be new development at University Square? Will it continue to be housing & retail? How will it interface with the redevelopment of Lot 5 across the street? And of course: how will the UNC make up for the lost tax revenue? In 2007, the owners (US GT LLC) paid $868,279.23 to Chapel Hill and Orange County.

This is just the kind of back-room deal that the Chancellor and Mayor seem to think  constitute healthy town-gown realtions. I don't get that.

One more question: The county valued this property at $49,895,519 but it sold for over $4 million less than that. How did the University snag such a bargain?

We're going to see even more acquisitions of this sort by the University in the next few years as UNC gears up for unprecendented enrollment growth (as much as 25 percent over the next 10-12 years).


Granville Towers and University Square. It'll stay on the tax rolls. Film at 11.

What looks like a large redevelopment, including parking, is in a very early stage with UNC and the town promising wide community input on what goes there. 


I look forward to your reportage on it, Kirk. You've already conveyed more information than any other stories or posts I've seen.

Just trying to earn my 'A.'

The big question here for me is not so much the Franklin side — UNC is promising to retain and enhance commercial frontage on Franklin Street — but Cameron Ave. If a major parking facility goes on the lot (it's 12 acres BTW), there would almost certainly have to be some circulation involving Cameron. That's going to have a very significant impact on an area that is already serious flux.

Anyone remember when you could cut through the GTowers lot from Cameron to Franklin? We have a long conversation ahead of us.

The text of the Joint News Release, which should answer many of the questions raised here, can be seen at   Just scroll down to Latest News.

Linda Convissor

The permanent link to the press release Linda mentions is here. It sayeth:

Friday, June 13, 2008
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Foundation will purchase the University Square-Granville Towers complex in downtown Chapel Hill.

After the sale, the UNC-Chapel Hill foundation plans no immediate changes in the current property use mix of retail, office, parking and UNC student housing.

But with input from the Town of Chapel Hill and community, University leaders say the sale could enhance the property’s commercial presence in the downtown business district. The deal will not affect the local property tax base since the UNC-Chapel Hill foundation will keep paying taxes – the 2007 total bill exceeds $868,279 – to support local governments and the city schools.

University and Town leaders announced the acquisition today at a joint news conference at the Chapel Hill Town Hall.

Chancellor James Moeser, right, announces at a news conference Friday (June 13) that the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Foundation will purchase the University Square-Granville Towers complex in downtown Chapel Hill. With input from the Town of Chapel Hill and community, University leaders say the sale could enhance the property’s commercial presence in the downtown business district. At left is Chapel Hill Mayor Kevin Foy, who also participated in the briefing.
“The University Square-Granville Towers complex is a sound strategic investment for the University with great potential for playing a larger role in downtown revitalization,” said Chancellor James Moeser. “We want to explore all options for using the property to meet the University’s needs, while also benefitting downtown Chapel Hill.”

Chapel Hill Mayor Kevin Foy said the eventual redevelopment of the
complex marks another important milestone in the Town's efforts to create a sustainable, vibrant downtown core.

“Thanks to a wise arrangement that will protect and potentially expand our tax base, the UNC-Chapel Hill foundation has responded well to the Town's economic development goals," Foy said. “We are pleased with the opportunity to work together toward a master plan that will guide the future long-term use of the complex.”

The University will seek ideas from Town leaders and citizens, said Roger Perry, chair of the UNC-Chapel Hill foundation’s Board of Directors, chair of the University’s Board of Trustees and president of East West Partners in Chapel Hill.

“The portion of the property on Franklin Street should always be used for commercial purposes in its current form, but with an eye toward redevelopment in the future,” Perry said.

A limited liability company affiliated with the Kenan family owns the University Square-Granville Towers complex. The UNC-Chapel Hill foundation will purchase the 12-acre tract and the existing buildings – three student residence halls and two office towers – for $45.75 million from US/GT, LLC, the limited liability company. The closing date for the sale will occur no later than July 1, 2009.

The UNC-Chapel Hill foundation intends to finance the purchase over a long term, said Dr. Richard Mann, vice chancellor for finance and administration. That approach has several advantages including preserving flexibility for possible future partnerships for redevelopment.

A long timetable also provides the community with an assurance that the UNC-Chapel Hill foundation has no plans to transfer ownership to the University, a state entity not subject to property taxes, he said.

“From a property tax perspective, this acquisition will have zero impact for the foreseeable future,” Mann said. “We’re also interested in seeing Franklin Street prosper and intend to keep playing a role in those discussions.”

About 80 percent of the current office space in the University Square office towers is leased to the University and the UNC Health Care System. Granville Towers, which is managed by a Memphis-based firm, can accommodate more than 1,300 UNC students with housing and dining services.

After closing the purchase, the UNC-Chapel Hill foundation will honor current leases and contracts for retail and office space in University Square, as well as executed leases for Granville Towers. The University’s Department of Housing will oversee management of UNC student housing in Granville Towers. Based on information including community input, the University plans to create a master plan for future long-term, just as it has on main campus for projects such as the arts common.

Development of the University Square complex began with the start of Granville Towers in 1965 when the property was owned by Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co. and continued in phases over the next eight years. Frank Kenan acquired the property in the early 1970s.

A Kenan family member, speaking on behalf of the family, said, “University Square was a special property to Frank Kenan. He went to work at his office there for 25 years. He loved the connection to the University and student life through the dorms at Granville Towers as much as he loved the small businesses that thrive at University Square. He felt the property had the most intrinsic value to the University because it is 12 acres adjacent to the campus and in the heart of the Town. He was committed to offer the property to the University first and foremost if he ever sold it. After 12 years, his family decided to execute his intentions.”

UNC contact: Mike McFarland, (919) 962-8593
Property owner contact: William P. Aycock II, attorney at law in Greensboro, (336) 370-8803
Town of Chapel Hill contact: Catherine Lazorko, (919) 969-5055



y'all thought Carolina North was the end?

just for fun...move HWA closer to downtown.

you know, for retail redevelopment ..blahblah...

Granville has already Grandfathered the highrise potential.

Sounds like it's a good deal for today, but what about tomorrow?  The University isn't bound to keep the property in holding by the foundation forever.  I hope we won't see the transfer of the property from taxed to untaxed state used as a bargaining chip to gain concessions on development some years down the road.  But I'm optimistic for now.  I've been wondering ever since I got here when that property was going to be redeveloped. Hopefully enough community input will be taken into consideration when we do cross that bridge that whatever results will be worthwhile.

The vagueness of announced plans for the site may be obscuring a fairly substantial shift in what Franklin Street will feel like in the future. Talk about moving stores closer to the street is, it seems to me, something of a red herring in light of what the history of Granville-plus-Plaza has been to the campus if not the town.

I think of all the student residents of Granville Towers -- a large number who straddle Town and Gown spheres of activity and influence. Will they keep their crypto-dorm-but-independent life? If not, where will they all go?

And I think of the Plaza, which until fairly recently had provided both students and town residents with an interesting and useful set of stores -- quick photo finishing, hair dressing, quick-mart store, midnight food, ice cream, a BLT, tux rental for the proms, eye glasses, etc. But who among us town residents has not been caught by the tight parking and the Parking Lot Enforcers, one way or another? -- And now with spots dedicated to the upscale, exclusive boutique stores, it's even worse.

I used to frequent several of the more egalitarian concerns there and made a point of chatting with the owners as, one by one, they were forced out in favor of the upscale places now there. Their stories were pretty much the same, and the pressure to leave was acute -- not only did rents skyrocket, parking was squeezed away from non-preferred tenants. And I remember a published interview with Mrs. Kenan about the changes there and how they might affect students (esp. Granville residents). If I'm not mistaken, her response was something like "I really don't care about the students."

The press release says that this sale to the University follows Frank Kenan's wishes and loyalty to UNC, but I can't help wondering which part of the University that loyalty targets. Much as I want to see downtown revitalized -- and that will require better parking (I'm heartbroken to see the Courtyard being slowly murdered on that issue) -- I worry on behalf of the students as well as the town about just what will be there five years from now.

My wife and I used to visit a gift shop there called the Whistle Stop.  When the owner closed up, she told us this same story, that the property owner wanted more upscale clients in the square, and her shop was not part of the plan. 

I never bother to stop in university square anymore, so I am not sure what shops, or restaurants are there.  The last time I was there, I found the marking of parking spots so ambiguous, I was concerned that I’d get towed away even *if* I was actually patronizing a business there.

 The parking on Franklin is such a total CF it is not even funny anymore. It seems ridiculous to see empty lots at various places along the west end on a Friday or Saturday night, totally roped off, while restaurant patrons struggle to find a place to park.

 The totally childish drama that has unfolded in the courtyard makes me wonder out loud if the town could not have played a more active role in working something out. This may all work out in the end.  However, it will take so long that all the really cool, locally owned shops and restaurants will have withered away waiting for something to happen.

 I see Franklin Street, circa 2012 lined with TGI Fridays, Bennigans and a half a dozen Starbucks.  It may be money, but it will also be depressing.

 John Rees

My thoughts on the deal, at my new blog location ( 

Personally, I think the Towers and Square, seriously cut into the downtown's pedestrian friendliness as it does not front directly onto Franklin St. With the parking lot and the empty gas station across the street, they cut off the pedestrian areas on either side from each other. I really hope they demolish the current set up and make it better partner to the rest of downtown.



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