Economy & Downtown

Chapel Hill's downtown has long benefited from its proximity to a captive audience of University students without cars. While downtowns around the country have been failing, ours has survived fairly well. However, we have seen an increase in the number of chain stores locating downtown, and instability in the Downtown Economic Development Corporation. In the near future, we will see new Town-directed development on two major parking lots have a big impact.
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Carrboro's downtown has also done better than many towns of comparable size, thanks largely to the presence of Weaver Street Market and progressive shoppers from the rest of the county. The Board of Aldermen has been addressing the evolution of the downtown, and have established a number of community resources in the downtown area including free wireless Internet access, and a low-power radio station.

Our role in the "global economy"

I was inspired to start a thread about economic issues by the Carrboro Board of Aldermen's meeting last night. Dr. James Johnson gave a presentation looking at what a "sustainable community" is and how that factors into and helps create a sustainable economy in a given city. Chapel Hill and Carrboro have many of the qualities of a sustainable community: respect for diversity (ok, that can be argued, but let's not focus on that), good schools, high quality of life. And yet, outside of the university, most folks commute to RTP and Durham and Raleigh for work. As an environmentalist who is concenred with sprawl and pollution, this concerns me.

Is there a chance our future holds more jobs locally? What are Chapel Hill and Carrboro doing right to create more opportunities for citizens to work in town? What are they doing wrong? Is there a focus on a particular type of business that the towns are trying to attract?

Developer Eyes Franklin

Will this be a further step in the mall-i-fication of Franklin Street, or a big boost to the west end?

The Fayetteville developer who constructed the Top of the Hill retail and office building in the heart of downtown is negotiating to buy another key tract of land on Franklin Street... "I plan to build a building that looks similar or better than Top of the Hill," Riddle said...

The renewed interest in Chapel Hill's downtown commercial district is good news to some.

So Long, And Thanks for All the Books

A fond farewell to Wallace Kuralt, propietor of the Intimate Bookshop, who went down fighting. His literary empire grew to eight stores, but eventually he had to close every location due to being unable to compete with the huge chains and online retailers who get sweetheart deals with book wholesalers. He took up the fight on behalf of all independent booksellers.

I didn't know him personally, but he had a profound impact on me. When I was in elementary school, my mother had a store downtown (where Pepper's is now). Along with the Varsity Theatre, the Intimate was my main afterschool program. I went there daily, took one of the many small chairs scatterred throughout the children's section, and read everything I could get my hands on. My favorite nook (a 2-foot wide space between two shelves) was dubbed "Ruby's corner" by the staff.

I just want to thank Mr. Kuralt for providing this opportunity for me and countless other Chapel Hillians to read to our hearts delight.

It's Happenning on Rosemary Street

Drive down West Rosemary Street and you will now see a huge pile of rubble where several buildings used to be. Tom Tucker's "Rosemary Village" development is finally underway. I'm both scared and excited.

To me, this represents a new era for Chapel Hill, especially downtown. Tucker's development will be compact but dense, and truly mixed-use. Street-level retail with upscale condos (and a few token affordable rentals) on top. The plan has some flaws, but that's no surpise since we've only done one or two things like this before (ie: The Fountains). It's decidely urban, and I like that.

If it's done wrong, this could be a huge drag to Northside. If done right, it could jumpstart healthy revitalization of West Rosemary Street. I like Tom Tucker, and I trust that he wants to help the community (as long as he still makes money). Still, it's so tall!

Home for the Homeless

Looks like the IFC is going to be homeless again. All the Chapel Hill News says is that they're having trouble finding a new place. Shock. Fortunately, the Chapel Hill Herald actually bothered to tell us what's going on.

Apparently the Town (who owns the building) is "temporarily" kicking out the IFC to do some renovations on the building. Considering that the Downtown Commission et al have been moaning about those unsightly beggars scaring the shoppers for years now, it seems quite possible to me that somehow the IFC won't get to move back in.

IFC has already had to relocate some of their services since the Town denied their request a few years ago to expand the facility at the corner of Rosemary and Columbia Streets. For example, they moved their women's shelter to Homestead Road - miles away from the walkability, the jobs, and the community downtown.

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