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Development Could Change Chapel Hill's Franklin Street

Posted November 20, 2006
Updated November 21, 2006

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— An $80 million development plan could turn Chapel Hill's Franklin Street into a 24/7 downtown.

The public-private partnership links Ram Development Co. and the Town of Chapel Hill.

"It knits together East Franklin (Street) with West Franklin (Street)," Mayor Kevin Foy said.

Foy said the town-owned parking lot that now sits at the intersection of Franklin and Church streets is a void along the famous strip and needs to go. The proposed plan for its replacement, Lot 5, calls for 28,000 square feet of commercial space, an underground parking garage and a public plaza.

The project also includes 137 condominiums. Town leaders said that within the next couple of years there could be more than 600 additional residential units in the downtown area.

"People generate activity and interest," Foy said. "And we're really focused on people living and working downtown."

Business owner Andrew Neal sees the benefits of the proposal and said he is cautiously optimistic about it.

"As long as there are people living in them, that would be people downtown (who are) more likely to shop at other retail spaces and eat at the restaurants," Neal said.

Neal, who runs a comic book shop on West Franklin Street, is confident the project would mean a busy Franklin Street year-round instead of empty parking lots in the summer when classes at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill are out of session.

Some people, however, said they are not sure whether they like the thought of change.

"I don't know. I kind of like it like it is," said Sally Archer, a Franklin Street regular. "I don't want them to add more stuff."

There are also concerns about added traffic congestion. Proponents admit, in a sense, that could be true but the new downtown residents would likely walk or bike to work.

If the project is approved, town leaders think it would be finished in about three years.

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