Downtown Chapel Hill had over 9 million visitors in 2022 — an increase of over 1.6 million from the last year — according to the Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership.
Following decreased numbers from the COVID-19 pandemic, the highest visitation day was April 5 — overlapping with UNC's run in the Final Four.
Numbers are expected to increase in 2023, according to Matt Gladdek, executive director of the CHDP. He said the increase was consequential of many different factors, including UNC sporting events and students returning to classes after breaks.
“You know, I think that it's a broad mix,” Gladdek said. "I would like to think that more visitors coming downtown during the pandemic helped to change people's perceptions of downtown.”
Additionally, downtown improvements in Chapel Hill that took place during the pandemic, such as expanding downtown sidewalks and adding outside seating for restaurants, contributed to the higher numbers, according to Gladdek.
“I think specifically for our downtown businesses, these numbers matter, because when you come downtown, you're more likely to spend a little money and support a local business,” Gladdek said. "That helps our businesses stay open and hire more people, and that makes downtown more attractive when you've got local businesses doing well.”
With numbers expected to continue rising, Dwight Bassett, director of Economic Development and Parking Services for the Town of Chapel Hill said his department is continuing to address current issues like parking, traffic safety and public restrooms.
Bassett said restrooms in Wallace Parking Deck are now open 24 hours a day and a new parking garage downtown will also have restrooms available at its east entrance.
With people driving into downtown and more visitors expected to come in, Bassett said the Chapel Hill Parking Services Department is also going to have to consider how it will manage Chapel Hill's parking resources.