The Daily Tar Heel

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Thursday March 30th

Courtyard construction brings promise of new shops and dining

Construction going on for Courtyard Apartments located at 431 West Franklin St.
Buy Photos Construction going on for Courtyard Apartments located at 431 West Franklin St.

For years, the Courtyard development in downtown Chapel Hill has fallen short of plans to transform the property into a hub for retail and dining.

But with construction moving forward on a new concept plan that will bring apartments and new business to the Courtyard by the end of the month, the once-bustling square could soon be revitalized.

The Courtyard, a walled-in brick space on West Franklin Street, has proven to be a disappointment in recent years as plans for redevelopment consistently fell through.

“The property was mismanaged over the years,” said Ted Kairys, managing partner of Kairys Group and a new manager of the residential development in the Courtyard. “At certain points in its history it has thrived, but it definitely fell off a cliff about seven years ago.”

He said eight apartments have recently been added to the development. The lease period began in August for the apartments, occupied mostly by graduate students.

An additional 16 units will be ready by August 2013, he said.

Kairys said he attributes the failure partly to permits not being approved by the town.

“We wanted to re-do it, bring student housing to the site, bring some new retailers in and make the space nice,” Kairys said.

Bruce Knott, who handles retail leasing at the site, said his goal was to bring some vibrancy back to that corner of Franklin Street.

“We’re trying to keep the feel that the Courtyard has, but supplement it with better restaurants and retail users,” Knott said.

The residential and retail projects are expected to cost millions of dollars.

“It’s worth it, though, because we’re developing a product that’s wanted and needed in Chapel Hill,” Knott said.

George Bakatsias, former owner of University Mall’s Spice Street restaurant — which closed in March — plans to open a Mediterranean restaurant in the Courtyard.

Knott said he hopes the restaurant and a yoga studio set to open at the end of the month will keep the cultural theme of the Courtyard alive.

The only restaurant that has thrived in the Courtyard during the past few years is Vimala’s Curryblossom Cafe.

“Since we’re so tucked away from Franklin Street, walk-through traffic has been minimal,” said owner Vimala Rajendran. “What business we get is solely due to a community invested in good, local food.”

She said she is positive that when the construction is finished, businesses in the Courtyard will do very well.

Bobby Funk, assistant director of the Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership, said he is optimistic about the development’s impact.

“It’s great to have people living right on Franklin Street,” he said. “Any space that gets new attention is good for downtown.”

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