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University Square tenants search for new business spaces

The redevelopment of University Square is moving forward after its rezoning and special use permit were approved by the town on Feb. 11 — but the process is far from over.

Although the special use permit doesn’t require construction to begin until February 2015, businesses in University Square are already planning for the changes.

During construction — which will demolish and replace the existing development with a combination of office, retail and residential space, and more than 1,000 parking spots — current tenants will have to shut down or relocate.

Kelly Bruney, the co-owner of University Square restaurant Butternut Squash, said the owners of the building had promised her a place in the new development since 2009, but changed their minds in the summer of 2012.

“They said they would temporarily rehouse us and then we would get permanent rehousing,” she said. “They deliberately misled us for four years.”

But Gordon Merklein, executive director of real estate development for UNC and member of the 123 West Franklin St. development team, said no such agreement existed, because the project’s timeline has been unknown and the new building will be owned by a different company.

“Anytime a property is redeveloped to the extent that University Square is, one would expect that tenants would have to move for that process to proceed,” he said. “Part of that process is that some tenants will come back. Some won’t. Some will retire.”

Walter Holt — senior property manager for Avison Young, the firm that currently manages University Square — said his company is helping tenants find spaces to use during construction.

And some businesses welcome the renovations as a necessary update for the development.

Pam Patterson, who has worked at University Square business Fine Feathers since 1994, said she thinks the redevelopment will help modernize the town.

“I think it’s a beautiful vision for the town, and I think the company that bought the property loves the town and the University and wants this project to be something we can all be very proud of,” she said.

“Everything will be moved up to the street, so there will be a lot more walking and diversity.”

Patterson said though she supports the redevelopment, it will be sad to see the current building go.

She said she isn’t sure if Fine Feathers will move back into the redeveloped space.

“It’s bittersweet, certainly, because those of us who have lived in Chapel Hill for a long time have fond memories of this property,” she said.

Tina Clossick, director of operations and programming at Kidzu Children’s Museum in University Square, said she also supports the changes.

“This building needs to be redone. This is something that needs to happen.”

Merklein said the developer hopes to begin construction, which will take approximately 26 months, within a year.

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