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UNC proposes renovation to Porthole Alley that would require business relocations

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. 

As a part of UNC Facilities Services' Campus Master Plan, the University designed a proposed renovation for Franklin Street's Porthole Alley with Philadelphia architecture firm KieranTimberlake.

On Thursday and Friday, the University held several information sessions about the proposed redevelopment of Porthole Alley, the walkway connecting UNC’s campus to Franklin Street. The alleyway sits between 134 and 144 E. Franklin Street. 

The proposed development could involve the demolition of the buildings, which could force local businesses, such as Cosmic Cantina and Johnny T-shirt, to relocate.

“We started out in January 2020 with public information sessions to really hear what the community’s thinking and interested in and their thoughts about this site and what could happen here,” said Richard Maimon, an architect and partner of KieranTimberlake, in an online information session on Thursday.

Maimon said the suggested redevelopment will draw stronger connections between downtown Chapel Hill and UNC’s campus. After renovations, Porthole Alley will house UNC Undergraduate Admissions and the UNC Visitors Center.

The plans include adding two new buildings, one on either side of the alleyway. There will also be transparent suspended bridges connecting the buildings, along with a sculpture garden and dining courtyard. 

The object of the project is to design “spaces that really bring people together with a sense of creative collision, some transparency, openness and a sense of contemporary alongside the historic dynamic institution,” Maimon said. 

The plans have received criticism from Chapel Hill residents, including concerns about the traffic that would accompany construction and the risk of losing Chapel Hill’s historic aesthetic. 

University Architect Evan Yassky said the redevelopment plans will take into account traffic delays caused by construction.

“Obviously there is a lot of both pedestrian, vehicular and bicycle traffic in this area that will have a plan well ahead of time about any need to divert lanes or other pathways around the site,” Yassky said. 

During the webinar, community members expressed concerns about the new alleyway buildings and modern architecture interfering with Chapel Hill's sense of community. Architects tasked with the redevelopment discussed many options of demolition, but decided to preserve the Carolina Coffee Shop’s location, demolishing the building on 134 E. Franklin Street instead. 

UNC junior Ryan Shanklin said he has many memories inside both Johnny T-Shirt and Cosmic Cantina.

“I remember my parents taking me and my brother to Johnny T-Shirt when I was younger, so I would hate for other families and students to miss out on these Franklin Street traditions,” Shanklin said.

The Carolina Coffee Shop, which is directly beside Porthole Alley, will remain in the same place. KieranTimberlake is working with affected businesses directly, in an attempt to preserve their business on Franklin Street. 

The redevelopment process is still in its very early stages. The next step in the process of redevelopment is to secure zoning rights for the architecture firm and begin planning for community accommodations around traffic caused by the construction. 

Plans have not been made for when the businesses at 134 E. Franklin Street need to relocate. 


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