Keep Fleet Feet in Carrboro

Fleet Feet has been reluctantly considering moving their corporate headquarters and retail store out of Carrboro. This Tuesday, the Carrboro Board of Aldermen will consider an Economic Development Agreement under which Fleet Feet would stay in Carrboro and move into a new building at 300 E Main Street—putting their (greatly-expanded) national flagship store on the ground floor and their national headquarters above.

The proposal is essentially that Main St Partners would build a new building, Fleet Feet would bind themselves to move into it (under a ten year lease) and the town would reduce Fleet Feet's risk by buying their office condominium above Acme Restaurant. We would pay tax value only and then re-sell the building. This would keep Fleet Feet from running the risk of winding up paying their mortgage on the office condo and rent on their new building at the same time.

Fleet Feet would also sell their current HQ (the Bleeker Street building) to Jesse Kalisher Gallery. Kalisher is also planning to expand and do some more hiring over the next couple of years, so the Bleeker building would become their new studio. The town would also kick in a small amount of money to lease some additional parking spaces to make this work for everyone.

This whole proposal will help expand Carrboro's commercial tax base by creating 30,000 square feet of new commercial space, while retaining many jobs in downtown Carrboro (as well as adding new jobs). The jobs at Fleet Feet are healthy-lifestyle jobs that align well with the kind of future that our town/state/country/planet should be pursuing. And the new and retained jobs at Kalisher's studio are just the kind of local, arts-oriented jobs that Carrboro prides itself on.

The new building will add millions of dollars to our commercial tax base and the expanded flagship store will increase sales tax revenue for our local governments. This is a win-win-win with little risk for Carrboro taxpayers and a huge long-term up-side.

If you think this is a good plan, I hope you will let the Board of Aldermen know. There are 3 things you can do to help:

  1. Like our facebook page:
  2. Email the BOA by sending an email to the Town Clerk at (she'll forward it to them).
  3. Come to the BOA meeting this Tuesday and show your support by wearing a Fleet Feet T-shirt or other Fleet Feet apparel!



I admire the creativity can-do spirit of this agreement and the attempts of the town to keep Fleet Feet here, but I'm wondering why the Town needs to pay the rent for up to twenty deck parking spaces for the Kalisher Gallery for a whole decade. I struggle to believe that the current Kalisher Gallery comes anywhere close to generating demand for 20 vehicles to visit their gallery at once except perhaps on Artwalk nights.  If that's correct, then they should not be required to plan for 20 parking spaces for something that happens once every fourth friday at most.I also have similar doubts that even at a full occupancy of the Bleeker St Building, any establishment of that size that isn't a restaurant would justify that type of parking demand.Given the recent surveys of Carrboro multifamily properties that show parking maxing out at 60-70% of their built capacity on days that should show the heaviest use, I am concerned that we are AGAIN asking a merchant (Kalisher) to be responsible for too much parking above and beyond what they might pursue on their own.Worse yet, we are setting a precedent of subsidizing that over-provision with a ten-year subsidy with the option of a ten-year extension.I'm fully in support of the real estate elements of this deal that don't involve parking- they all make sense, seem unlikely to harm the town in any way in the long run, and don't run afoul of any other local goals I can think of.Three ways I can think of that would approve the parking components of the deal are:1. Shorten the term for any parking reimbursements.  Make the deal three years, and don't have an option to renew it. There's a reasonable case that the Town can step in to smooth transition periods with parking cost reductions, but the Town should also engineer reasonably quick exits from these situations.2.  Structure parking reimbursements in a way that encourages merchants taking advantage of them to support alternative modes for employees.  Assuming the rental rate is $20/month, the Town should reimburse up to $250/year for spaces 1-5, $180/year for spaces 6-10, $100/year for spaces 11-15, and $30/year for spaces 16-20. (If the monthly rental rate is lower, the amount the town should reimburse should fall accordingly for each level)3. Another way to take the approach in #2 is to taper the number of spaces eligible for subsidy per year in the agreement:Year 1: Up to 20 spacesYear 2: Up to 13 spacesYear 3: Up to 5 spacesYear 4 and beyond: parking space costs no longer eligible for reimbursements -----------Let's figure out how to make this deal happen. If we have to subsidize parking to do it, let's find a way to do so that complements the environmental and mobility goals that the Town supports as well.

I largely agree with Patrick's comments about oversubsidization of parking. I want to emphasize that it's not clear why the Kalisher needs 20 spaces, and it's not clear why the agreement requires Kalisher to rent 20 parking spaces. At the very least, the contract could provide that each year for 10 years MSP must make available for rent to Kalisher up to 20 parking spaces, but not require Kalisher to rent all of them. Of course, as drafted the Town is paying the full cost of Kalisher's parking, so there's no reason for Kalisher to rent fewer than 20 spaces, but as Patrick suggested that need not be the case.
The intended users of these 20 spaces is unclear. Is it Kalisher's employees? Service providers? Customers? If the proposal is to allow spaces for customers, I would urge some sort of provision that requires Kalisher to allow customers to patronize other local businesses while their car is parked in the Kalisher space. This could be done through a parking validation system that reserves spaces for Kalisher customers for up to two or three hours. Without this flexibility, the Town will run into the same problem that it is facing at Carr Mill Mall, and that Chapel Hill faces at the McDonalds, Panera Bread, and other establishments along Franklin Street, where patronage of other shops is discouraged because of parking spaces owned by private landowners who aren't afraid to tow.
Finally, let's assume that Kallisher needs 20 spaces during the workday for its employees. If that's the case, the Town owns a substantial amount of parking downtown. I would recommend blocking off part of the Roberson Square lot, dedicating its use for Kalisher during workdays, in lieu of paying for the use of costly structured parking. If the proximity to the Kalisher building is important, than some spaces could be provided in the deck and the others at Roberson.

Thanks for these comments. You and Patrick are on target, as usual.One clarification: The agreement does use the "up to 20 parking spaces" you suggest (see sections 4 and 7). However, I agree it would be good to find a way to encourage Kalisher to lease only the number of spaces they need.The Bleeker Building contains 5335 sq ft of gross floor area. I don't know what land use classification the town applies to Kalisher, but the ordinance's presumptive parking standards would require anywhere from 13 parking spaces (for art galleries) to 18 spaces (for low-volume retail) to 27 spaces (for high-volume retail). As you know, I think the town's presumptive parking requirements are excessive (and the staff is working on them now), but these are the current standards.I believe Kalisher may be interested in expanding their business, so that may also be part of the story here. 

Kalisher says he needs the spaces for his employees (counting a few more to be hired in the future). The spaces at the lot on Greensboro Street are not an acceptable substitute because of the distance from the studio.

And how many does he expect to hire in the new space?

I am naive to the inner workings of local government and maybe I don't understand what is happening, but here is what concerns me.  Somehow this is being done in a budget period that ends in a week.  I don't understand the moving of funds from one line to another but is this saying that the Town of Carrboro has almost $600,000 in excess from the 2012 budget that there are no plans for?  If it is from some kind of emergency fund that has been deemed needed, how will the funds be replaced?  How does this impact the 300 E. Main Street plan that has been approved by various government organizations, over many years?  Why does this need to be done so urgently when other things seem to take so long and why is it being so oversold on this site and probably other places? To quote above -"The jobs at Fleet Feet are healthy-lifestyle jobs that align with the kind of future that our town/state/country/planet should be pursuing."Expensive, healthy shoes for the wealthy shouldn't be a future priority of the country and the planet at least. Don't get me wrong, I don't mean to imply anything bad about Fleet Feet, from what I know about it , which isn't much, it is a good company and I am glad to have it in Carrboro.  I am just reacting to the hyperbole above.Parking spaces - Who is the town leasing the parking spaces from?  I have been very impressed with parking in Carrboro.  There is plenty of public parking in Carrboro.  I have never failed to find a parking space within a block or two of my destination and have found it easy to walk between various commercial Carrboro locations. I rarely find it necessary to park at Carr Mill.  What is the purpose of 20 exclusive parking space?I just read Mark's most recent post.  Maybe walking two or even three blocks to get to one's destination would be better aligned with "the kind of future that our town/state/country/planet should be pursuing."

Local governments maintain "unreserved fund balance"—essentially a reserve fund—to cover emergencies and unexpected revenue shortfalls and to take advantage of opportunities like this one. The $568,000 for the office space at 110 E Main Street would presumably be recovered by resale of the property or some other arrangement yet to be determined.

Thanks for the response Damon. So the funds come from a reserve fund and will need to be replaced.  If the property sells quickly then the cost is minimal but clearly there is some risk that it won't or Fleet Feet wouldn't care.  In the meantime will the property be off the tax rolls?  I have read the documents a little more carefully and I suppose the building is already one that is planned for 300 E. Main, although nothing I read actually says that.  If that is the case, is this really 30,000 additional square feet?  Will this accelerate the construction plans for 300 E. Main?  Is that really the advantage of the plan and paying for the parking spaces adds some additional incentives?  On the other hand the additional space being built at 300 E. will likely make it more difficult for the town to sell the office condo.  Are there potential buyers that have been identified?  The implications of all this seem complicated to me.  I am not saying this isn't the right thing to do but why the rush? 

The new building is one already planned as part of the 300 E Main Street development. A lease commitment from Fleet Feet would allow Main Street Partners to secure financing and, therefore, accelerate construction.I don't know that there is a particular rush, except to the extent that Fleet Feet and Kalisher are eager to resolve their relocation/expansion concerns. I'm assuming the community would prefer to keep them in Carrboro, notwithstanding some important discussion to be had about things like providing public subsidy for an oversupply of parking.

This is a complicated plan with many inter-related parts. If you start trying to change one part of the agreement, you run the risk of one or more partners pulling out. Sacrificing the good for the perfect may cause the town and its citizens to lose two strong, community-minded businesses. Are a few parking spaces worth that risk?

It seems pretty simple to me. Fleet Feet sells one building to the Town, another to Kalisher, and Town pays for 20 parking spaces for Kalisher. There's a provision requiring the Town to lease the sold space to Fleet Feet until their new space is ready, and a recpature provision of Kalisher leaves early, but that's it. It ain't Obamacare. 

If Kalisher pulls out because of parking issues, will they stay or leave town? I'm told they have looked at all available space and this is their only viable option. Are you willing to lose them over a few parking spaces? What will Fleet Feet do if they have to start over finding buyers for their spaces? Will they stay here while looking for new buyers or will they take the lower cost option and move to another community? Who will MSP find to lease their space? I think it's all pretty high risk for little benefit.

Kalisher says he has at least two viable options. The other alternative is to move to a site that is not in Carrboro. Fleet Feet has three options, two of them not in Carrboro.

The effects of the over use of automobiles are not trivial.  Do we want a community where people drive around the corner to pickup a few things?  Or as someone once pointed out to me on this site drive across the street?   It is not as if parking it is hard to find parking in downtown Carrboro.

Just sent this to the board:------------------------------Dear Mayor Chilton and Board of Aldermen,As you consider the Economic Development Agreement on the table tonight, I think there's a lot to recommend the proposed deal.  The real estate components make sense, and I think the town's risk in re-selling the office condo is relatively low given all the development interest downtown these days.That said, I think the commitment to pay rent for up to 20 parking spaces for Jesse Kalisher's studio for a full decade is inappropriate and contrary to some of the goals we should be trying to achieve in our downtown. I think this is a bad idea for the following reasons:1. We talk a lot about a local living economy, but if we pay to rent parking spaces for Mr. Kalisher because he's going to add employees, will every future local employer that wants to expand be coming to Town Hall to ask for parking subsidies? Worse, out of some attempt to be fair, will we say yes? This is a precedent I would like us NOT to set.2. When we think about the role that local governments might play in economic development, I find lots of common sense in easing transitions (like this deal does helping Fleet Feet avoid double rent/mortgage payments for a limited time, or how the revolving loan fund helps get doors open) and little common sense in subsidizing the ongoing operating costs of a business. (such as leasing equipment or space, in this case, parking spaces) A ten-year parking rental deal with an option to renew does not sound like an exit strategy for the Town.3. The vision for utilization of these spaces seems poorly rationalized, unscientific, and in conflict with a strategy to promote space turnover for economic activity in the downtown.  I have heard that Kalisher has 16-17 employees, and that the spaces are needed for them and potential future hires.  Are all of them working there at once? If not, they do not need one space per person.  But more importantly, the second-worst use of any parking space downtown is for employee parking. (the worst is residential car storage)  When an employee comes downtown, parks in a space, and leaves their car there for 8 hours, that's a lot of turnover opportunities for visiting customers lost, especially when we have the cycling infrastructure and right level of bus service during peak hours to get many Chapel Hill / Carrboro residents here on a bike or bus.4. If these employee parking spaces become customer parking spaces after the fact, will it be okay for the Town to continue paying for his customers to park in a deck?  Is it fair to pay for parking for purchasers of art, but not for purchasers of beer, wings, meatballs, or concert tickets? (some of the other near future purchases at 300 East Main) Equity-wise, aren't people buying art likely to be some of the wealthier visitors to downtown?5. As Geoff Green pointed out on Orangepolitics, downtown Carrboro already has a mishmash of towing rules put forth by individual private lots. Will Mr. Kalisher be allowed to have cars towed from Kalisher Gallery's Town-leased spaces if people who park there visit other businesses? Watching Carr Mill Mall staff tow cars on Mother's Day this year, while we had a ton of visitors in town for UNC graduation, perhaps enjoying and spending money in Carrboro for the first time that day, I don't think this is a message we want to send to visitors using public funds.I understand that members of the Board may feel strongly that helping out on parking is a key part of this deal.  While I think that those concerns are over-represented in this agreement, I think they could be put in the proper perspective by aligning Mr. Kalisher's incentives with what supports the broader town business climate by promoting the turnover of parking for customers rather than the sequestering of it by employees.  To do this, I recommend doing both of the following:A. Have the Town involved in parking to smooth transitions, not subsidize it permanently.  I recommend the parking deal be limited to three years, regardless of the amount of reimbursement involved.  This is a signal to the businesses that we're willing to help, but that they also need to be onboard with constructive mobility planning for all of downtown, and not simply trying to maximize their own parking and forgetting about the interests of everyone else.B. Have the amount the Town reimburses Kalisher per parking space decline as the number of spaces increases. The agreement starts at $250/space. Alderman Seils reports that an art gallery the size of the Bleeker Building under the presumptive standards (which are likely too high) would require 13 spaces.  Reimburse Kalisher annually as follows up to the presumptive standard:Space 1 - $250/yearSpace 2 - $230/yearSpace 3 - $210/yearSpace 4 - $190/year (reimburse $20 less/year for each subsequent space)...Space 13 - $10/yearSpace 14 and beyond - Kalisher responsibilityDoing it this way allows the town to help while still gearing its participation to encourage Kalisher to encourage his employees to carpool, ride transit, or bike downtown to maximize space availability for customers visiting the gallery.Also, what if the Town agreed, as a one-time incentive, to reimburse up to 20 Kalisher employees up to $300 to buy a bike and a helmet-- to help work on the more positive side of the ledger?Thanks for considering these recommendations.Your neighbor,Patrick McDonough


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