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Changes might be coming to East Rosemary Street and downtown Chapel Hill

Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger speaks during a Chapel Hill Town Council Work Session at the Chapel Hill Public Library on Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2020.

The Chapel Hill Town Council unanimously passed a motion Wednesday to bring the Town a step closer to accepting a proposal that would revamp East Rosemary Street and downtown Chapel Hill. 

The motion allowed for developers to bring forth a Memorandum of Understanding on March 4.

The project, called the East Rosemary Downtown Redevelopment Project, would drastically change the look and functionality of the downtown street. The project proposes a new 1,100-space parking garage that would be built at 137 East Rosemary St. 

A separate, additional project to build a 200,000-square-foot office space equipped with a wet lab to replace the Wallace Deck, is in the works if the East Rosemary Downtown Redevelopment Project is accepted.

Town Manager Maurice Jones said this project could add much needed additional parking options to downtown Chapel Hill. Jones said there will be a net total of 259 new spaces in downtown with the addition of the new parking deck. He said 100 spaces of the 1,100 in the deck will be reserved for a new UNC admissions building downtown.

Clay Grubb, CEO of the project's developer, Grubb Properties, said the new parking deck will also include a pop-up porch, which will give small businesses and entrepreneurs opportunities to set up shop outside the deck.

“There’s definitely a need for additional parking downtown, especially as new office space is created and new retail shops are opening, as well,” Jones said. “This project could meet both the present and future needs of our downtown businesses.”

In addition, Jones said the parking deck would make bicycling and walking on East Rosemary Street easier and safer. 

He said each project will align with the Town’s goals for economic and financial sustainability, environmental stewardship and a more connected community.

Jones expressed some concerns about the project, such as effects on traffic, the expediency of the project — it would need to be underway by fall 2020 — and the $28 million cost of the parking garage.

Amy Oland, business management director for the Town of Chapel Hill, expanded on the cost of the project.

“The estimate project cost we’re looking at is $28.166 million, and this total is comprised of the parking deck construction cost of $24.2 million,” Oland said.

Oland also said borrowing for the project will not impact the town’s ability to borrow for other projects in Chapel Hill’s 15-year Capital Improvement Plan.

Dwight Bassett, Chapel Hill’s economic development officer, highlighted the positive effects the project will have on downtown.

“By proceeding with this proposed redevelopment, we will create new opportunities for job creation in downtown and we will consolidate parking on East Rosemary that supports new and existing businesses,” Bassett said.

Bassett also gave a preliminary timeline for the construction of the parking deck. He said on March 4, a draft of a Memorandum of Understanding  will be brought to the Council for consideration to decide on the framework of the project. If this passes, conditional zoning for the new parking deck will commence in March. 

If the parking deck is approved in June 2020, Grubb Properties will be authorized to begin construction on the Town’s behalf, as well begin negotiating an economic development agreement and the exchange of parcels. Construction of the parking deck will then take place from September 2020 through September 2021. In September 2021, the new deck will be accepted by the Town.

Grubb presented a slideshow to the Council, exhibiting the changes to downtown that will be visible from Porthole Alley if the project is accepted.

Council members expressed both concern and excitement about the proposed project.

“I do want to make sure we are protecting ourselves, that we’re being really realistic and skeptical, critical,” council member Jessica Anderson said. “I would like to see some more conservative numbers to protect how much overage we can end up with."

Council member Hongbin Gu said the Council is very excited about the opportunities the project will bring to the Town. However, she is skeptical of how much money will truly be brought in through parking fees.

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“The Town’s role is to provide the infrastructure that enables private capital to be productive and give us the kind of innovation spaces, the kind of labs, the kind of entrepreneurial environment that we need,” said council member Michael Parker.

@DTHCityState |

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