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Looking for a short cut? Porthole Alley reopens to pedestrians

Porthole Alley contains the "Parade of Humanity" mural, painted in 1997 by Chapel Hill native Michael Brown. 

Porthole Alley contains the "Parade of Humanity" mural, painted in 1997 by Chapel Hill native Michael Brown. 

Porthole Alley reopened on March 29 after undergoing a renovation project aiming to improve safety and appearance. The alley is best known for Michael Brown’s parade mural and connects Franklin Street to UNC’s campus.

The $2.8 million project began in November 2016 and includes adding better lighting, brick sidewalks and green spaces.

UNC employees Kyle Coble, construction manager, and Jill Coleman, design manager, oversaw the renovation. The university partnered with the Town of Chapel Hill and the Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership to complete the project.  

Before the renovation, vehicles could enter the alley through Franklin Street to reach service entrances behind buildings. Now, vehicles can reach the service entrances from Columbia Street in between Top of the Hill Restaurant & Brewery and the Ackland Art Museum, Coleman said. 

“The genesis of the project was to improve pedestrian and bicycle safety through the area,” Coleman said. 

The alleyway is now completely brick to match the sidewalks on campus and to signal to vehicles that it’s a pedestrian corridor, Coleman said. It also features several black posts on both ends to restrict vehicles from driving through the area. 

Kevin Smith, a Durham resident and UNC employee, often uses the walkway when he gets off work. 

“Before you were dodging cars walking through here so it’s nicer,” Smith said. “It feels more like a pedestrian walk way.”

Similar to Smith, Durham resident Tess Filipowicz also uses the new pathway after work. 

“I moved here in October so for me it’s just nice not to have construction and to actually use this path,” Filipowicz said. 

New lights have been added in the alley, as well as light posts along the sidewalks coming from the direction of Hanes Art Center. 

Savannah Samuel, a UNC senior, walked through the redesigned alley Wednesday. She remembered using the path before the renovation project. 

“You didn’t walk through here by yourself without other people at night,” Samuel said. “I dig it now; it gives more of a downtown feel.” 

The renovation project also included redesigning the Alumni Sculpture Garden, which is located to the north of Hanes Art Center. The area now includes a nicer green space with added trees and plants. 

Some fencing still remains in the area near Hanes Art Center, where a sidewalk and landscaping are being completed. 

“This is truly a gateway into town and into campus,” Coleman said. “We’re excited the project is almost done and we’re grateful for the support from the town.”  


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