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New tenants to potentially fill vacant spaces at Franklin and Columbia intersection

Raising Canes is pictured on Wednesday Feb. 16, 2023 on Franklin Street.

The intersection of Franklin and Columbia streets, one of the busiest and most prominent intersections in Chapel Hill, currently has three empty storefronts. However, new tenants and continued construction suggest a more bustling street corner could soon come.

Three of the street corners on the intersection — the former Seafood Destiny and MidiCi Italian Kitchen locations and the upcoming Raising Cane’s franchise — are all currently not open for business.

However, Stephanie Cobert, the director of marketing for the Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership, said the idea that downtown Chapel Hill is overwhelmingly vacant is a misconception.

Chapel Hill is currently operating at 90 percent capacity for businesses, according to Cobert.

"That place being such a prime location and being the gateway to downtown and the corner that everyone thinks of when they think of Franklin Street, a lot more people think that downtown is emptier than it actually is," she said.

One of the three empty spaces used to be occupied by MidiCi Italian Kitchen, which shut its doors in summer 2019. The space has remained empty since, but there is no longer a for lease sign in its window.

“The former MidiCi space currently has a lease,” Cobert said. “We hope to announce that tenant soon, but there is something coming to that building.”

Claudia Harvey, a first-year UNC student, said she thinks Franklin Street could benefit from having more fast food options because college students on a budget make up a large portion of its customer base. 

“It's made me wonder about the longevity of restaurants and stores on Franklin because their main demographic is college students,” she said. “So like, if they're not doing well with college kids, how long can their business stay in business?”

Cobert said rent on Franklin Street is expensive, but the Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership is working with property owners and developers to make downtown more local business-friendly. 

Raising Cane’s, a fast food chain restaurant that specializes in fried chicken, announced its expansion into Chapel Hill last year and was initially set to open this spring. However, construction is still ongoing, as the building required significant maintenance.

Everything from the building’s foundation to the electrical system is being redone. Cobert said the restaurant will hopefully open this year, as long as there are no supply chain issues.

Kate Klinger, a first-year student, grew up in Las Vegas and remembers Cane’s being one of the only restaurants she would eat at. She said she thinks it will be a good addition to the dining scene in Chapel Hill.

“I think since it's one of the only locations on the east coast and because we are a bigger school, it probably is going to be a little bit crowded when it first opens, but it should die down,” Klinger said.

With Raising Cane’s filling one of the three empty spaces, Klinger said she hopes the other two aren’t also fast food. Instead, she said she would like to see more healthy dining options like Franklin Street's Roots Natural Kitchen. 

The third space was occupied by Seafood Destiny, which closed last year after the restaurant’s owner faced legal issues. Cobert said the closing had nothing to do with the pandemic or its location downtown and that the building owners are currently discussing a lease with a new tenant.

“We hope to bring in these businesses soon,” Cobert said. “We hope that Raising Cane’s and the new tenants are going to open their doors soon and that corner will be bustling again.”


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