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Chapel Hill Town Council brainstorms for UNC Master Plan at last week's meeting

The council discusses uses for the Porthole Alley space under the UNC Master Plan

The Chapel Hill Town Council held a meeting on Sept. 25 to discuss many ongoing projects, including the UNC Master Plan. 

According to the University’s website, this developmental plan will “create a welcoming campus,” part of which includes renovating Porthole Alley to create a pathway from campus to the future location of Carolina’s Visitors Center. The Porthole Alley zone contains some local Chapel Hill businesses such as Johnny T-Shirt and Cosmic Cantina. 

Gordon Merklein, associate vice chancellor for University Real Estate Operations, started the presentation by discussing the benefits of having the visitor’s center near Porthole Alley. 

“(Porthole Alley) is a place that was identified as both a welcoming area, as well as an area where innovation and convergence can happen,” Merklein said. 

With Porthole Alley being deemed as a welcoming area, Merklein said it would be a perfect place to put the Carolina's Visitors Center. He also said it would help bring campus visitors to Franklin Street and downtown Chapel Hill.

“The opportunity to bring undergraduate admissions to Franklin Street would really create an opportunity to bring a lot of unique visitors to downtown, where they have the opportunity to see both Chapel Hill and the University,” Merklein said.

For Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger, finding a way to connect the University to the Town is an important aspect of the Master Plan. 

“Connectivity is a huge theme in the UNC Master Plan,” Hemminger said. “We’re all working towards plans that help our community together.”

Merklein also said before any drastic changes occur, there will be community input sessions and workshops which will cover topics such as urban density and historic preservation. 

“We want to have these types of community discussions,” Merklein said. “We’re envisioning a four-to-six month process where we hold the workshops and have them work through some schematic concepts.”

As a part of the semi-annual update, the University also mentioned some of the projects that had been completed since the last update, including Dorrance Field at UNC's Soccer & Lacrosse Stadium, a new indoor athletics facility where student athletes can practice and an ACC Network Media and Communications Center located by the Dean Smith Center. 

The University presented other updates about various ongoing projects under construction in Chapel Hill. 

University Architect Evan Yassky presented updates on projects such as the UNC Hospitals Surgical Tower, the Odum Village demolition, Chapel Creek Wetland and Outdoor Education Center, the Curtis Media Center and the Carolina Visitors Center that was proposed earlier in the meeting. 

Town Council Member Hongbin Gu expressed concerns about how the various projects are going to affect the transportation in town, and Yassky said he shares that concern.

“We still believe a mass transit solution is necessary,” Yassky said. “We are still banking on some transit solutions, and it’s really not just for the southern part of our campus, but for Chapel Hill generally to be able to be a healthy, productive community.”


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