With fewer than half of its 97 residential apartments filled, Greenbridge Developments has struggled to find its niche in Chapel Hill real estate and the surrounding low-income neighborhood since it opened in October.
Michael Cucchiara, a partner of the 10-story mixed-use development on Rosemary Street in the Northside neighborhood, said the 45 percent occupancy rate is lower than expected. The downtown location has been a double-edged sword for attracting tenants, he said.
“People who have been around Chapel Hill for a long time perceive that area to be a bad neighborhood,” he said.
Greenbridge is trying to change the perceptions of prospective tenants, especially “old-timers,” by encouraging them to tour the development, Cucchiara said.
But some Northside residents insist their neighborhood should not be to blame.
“They came to this area,” said Delaine Ingram, manager of Delaine’s House of Beauty near Greenbridge. “We didn’t come where they were. They came where we were. It’s not our fault that they’re not succeeding.”
Cucchiara said the development, like most other real estate ventures, has suffered from the recession.
“I don’t think anybody in the United States has expected or planned for it to take this long,” he said.
Cucchiara said Greenbridge’s residents range from 25 years old to 92 years old and represent a diverse demographic. Most of the tenants do not have young children, but the development hopes to attract more families.
Despite low occupancy, Cucchiara said he is pleased with the response of current residents.
“The people that live in the building love living in the building,” he said. “So, to me, that’s been a success.”
Greenbridge’s least expensive apartment — an 848-square foot, one bedroom unit — is priced at $326,000. The development’s most expensive and largest unit costs $1.25 million and is a three-bedroom penthouse on the top floor.
“I feel like it’s priced out of the community, really,” Ingram said. “It wasn’t built for poor people. It was built for wealthy people. That’s the reason it’s not getting good business. It’s out of our price range.”
East 54, another mixed-use development, also opened in October on Highway 54 near its intersection of Highway 15-501.
The development has sold 70 percent of its apartments and expects to reach as much as 90 percent occupancy by the end of the year, said Lee Perry, East 54’s project manager.
“They put it where the money is,” said Larry Caldwell, a Rogers Road resident who spent much of his childhood in Northside.
The typical East 54 tenant is an “empty nester,” about 50 to 65 years old looking to downsize, Perry said. Its proximity to Finley Golf Course, public transportation lines and other nearby developments attracts tenants, he said.
“They’re just completely different buyers,” he said. “There are some folks who would really want to be over here and wouldn’t necessarily want to be downtown.”
Northside resident Tyrone Hicks said Greenbridge, unlike East 54, does not mesh with the businesses and houses that surround it.
“It’s beautiful, but it’s a sore thumb,” he said. “You look at it and think, ‘Why is it here?’”
Cucchiara said he is negotiating with other stores that would join LIGHT: Art Design and Southern Environmental Law Center in the development’s 36,000 square feet of retail and office space.
Cucchiara said any new businesses are encouraged to support Greenbridge’s theme of environmental sustainability.
But Caldwell said he is doubtful high-end stores will attract business from many Northside residents.
“Basically it’s the wrong building for this part of town,” he said. “They have nothing in there for the locals. The community doesn’t have any stake in it.”
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