This column is a part of an ongoing series featuring Chapel Hill Town Council and Carrboro Board of Aldermen candidates. Renuka Soll is a candidate for Chapel Hill Town Council.
Too many of our downtown stores have closed their doors. I spoke with local businesses (both in and out of downtown) to learn why these places are suffering. I want our business community to grow and succeed.
Businesses not located downtown said that they don’t want to be there because parking is limited, making it harder for customers. However, businesses that are downtown mentioned the high rent and the long trek for students from the campus center. Even with these problems, many businesses prefer being downtown because they get customers through foot traffic.
Based on my conversations with store owners, downtown businesses get most of their clientele from people who live or work there. We can strengthen Chapel Hill’s downtown through smart growth that will stimulate its economy while at the same time maintaining its culture of small, local businesses and historical look and feel. If more people live downtown and small 40-70 person start-ups were located there, enough people would frequent the stores to keep our local businesses thriving. We just need to do it right.
We can do the following to revitalize our downtown:
- Develop office space to encourage start-ups to remain in Chapel Hill. Let's continue to support business accelerators, like LAUNCH and co-working spaces. We need to provide high-potential, small companies with free seminars and expert advice on getting a business off the ground. The town should incentivize developers to create more office space, which will diversify our tax base. This will take a heavy tax burden off our residents.
- Encourage more housing to support our retail businesses. Along with this would come more affordable housing. Let’s revisit the inclusionary housing ordinance to see if we could increase the amount of affordable housing downtown from 10 percent to 15 percent, as it is in other parts of town. More people living downtown will provide more residents to shop in our local retail stores. Additionally, these residents will not need a car if they work where they live, creating sustainable living which benefits the environment.
- Encourage tourism by providing historical walking tours in downtown to attract residents and visitors to explore our area and shops.
- Create more walkways, green spaces, art installations, and outdoor cafes along the downtown streets to make it a pleasant and fun experience.
Our downtown can grow while still maintaining the historical character and uniqueness of our town. Moving to medium height, attractive buildings with set-backs and trees framing the streets, as well as a walkable area will benefit both town residents and local businesses.
By transforming downtown, our local business community will strengthen, town-gown relationships will improve as we support enterprising students who want to remain in Chapel Hill and downtown can transform into a place where our residents will want to shop and eat. I envision a vibrant town center in our near future.
Go to www.RenukaSoll.com to learn more about my priorities.
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