And for once, there seems to be broad support for new construction.
Last week, the Chapel Hill Town Council held a public hearing on The Franklin, a five-story, 66-room hotel slated to be built across from Ham's, where the abandoned Trailways Bus Station currently sits. The bus station was purchased last year by Richard and Robert Capps of Greenville for $795,000. The Capps also own hotels in Greensboro, Jacksonville and Greenville.
A surprising number, from a broad range of groups, spoke in favor of the construction project at the meeting.
The Downtown Commission and the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce voiced support, as well as residents of the Northside District and the historic district to the south of West Franklin Street.
Getting residents and business leaders to agree on the fate of downtown Chapel Hill is far from an all-too-common occurrence.
But there is good reason to welcome a business like The Franklin to West Franklin Street.
A hotel located at the heart of the downtown area is certain to be a boost for local businesses -- especially eateries such as the Carolina Brewery, Four Eleven West, 23 and Pyewacket Restaurant.
Unlike many higher-class hotels and inns, The Franklin will not have a restaurant within its walls. That means the occupants of those 66 rooms will have to venture out to eat -- and luckily Franklin Street is not low on options for hungry visitors.
In fact, The Franklin's passing on an internal restaurant probably is a large reason behind the vocal support from local businesses.
Also, retail shops will undoubtedly benefit from the added foot traffic up and down the street.
So business owners have a vested interest in seeing a hotel added to the downtown landscape.
But what do residents have to gain?
One obvious benefit is the addition of jobs at the hotel that are easily accessible by mass transit.
Secondly, hotel planners have been careful about drawing up plans for a structure that doesn't superimpose itself, or "drown out," surrounding areas. After all, a five-story building on Franklin Street could appear monstrous beside small one- and two-story shops.
To counter that fear, the upper floors of The Franklin will be tiered, so that only the first two floors are seen by pedestrians.
In addition, two levels of parking will be built below the hotel. That way, there will not be an extra burden on the already-cramped parking situation downtown and a mid-sized parking lot will not lower the area's aesthetic quality.
These considerations by the hotel planners helped win over local residents.
And let's face it: almost anything would be better on Franklin Street than the current abandoned bus station.
I don't believe that residents, businesses or the Town Council should worry about the new hotel being an eyesore either.
Number one, it's catering to the wealthier set -- so aesthetic quality (both within and outside) will be important.
Also, designers have said that the structure will be brick and reconstituted stone, with wooden windows. So it will fit right in with the architecture of the University and surrounding area.
All in all, the proposal seems to be a good mix of much-needed business development, balanced with smart growth planning. This is the type of "smart construction" that both Chapel Hill and Carrboro should continue to pursue as both towns grow in the coming years.
The proposal will come up for a vote before the Town Council on Nov. 12. If approved, The Franklin could be up and running as soon as summer 2003.
Hopefully, I'll come back a few years from now as a wealthy alum and be able to afford staying there ...
Columnist Jonathan Chaney can be reached at email@example.com.
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