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The Daily Tar Heel

Op-ed: Saving The Purple Bowl means saving Chapel Hill

Customers walk into The Purple Bowl on November 5, 2020.

If you follow the Chapel Hill Town Council email inbox, you may have noticed dozens and dozens of letters about saving The Purple Bowl, the beloved açaí joint on Franklin Street.

A new office, lab and retail space is possibly coming to 306 W. Franklin St., where The Purple Bowl is currently located.

It’s no secret that the Town of Chapel Hill wants more commercial development here, and there are good reasons for that: 

  • It could take some of the tax burden off residents who now contribute a higher share of the town’s property taxes than neighboring communities. 
  • It diversifies our economy. Economically healthy places have multiple industries that help mitigate shocks that come from economic cycles or, in the case of higher education, budget cuts. 
  • It adds jobs in town, which reduces the vehicle miles so many of us travel to get to Research Triangle Park and beyond, and workers spend money here even if they do not live here.

The Purple Bowl predicament is a sign that we’ve reached the painful stage of economic growth. What could be good for our overall economic well-being could be hell for our local businesses that make this place feel like home.

For us, it’s places like Merritt’s Grill, Caffé Driade and Lantern. For you, it might be Sutton’s Drug Store, the Varsity Theater or Flyleaf Books. 

And they are all threatened. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but it could come at any time and in the blink of an eye.

The potential redevelopment of 306 W. Franklin is a chance to try something different.

That’s because it’s a different situation. Usually, the Town is begging businesses to move here and has to provide them incentives to do so. In recent years, Wegmans, Well and Grubb Properties have all received financial incentives to locate or expand in Chapel Hill.   

But in this case, the developer Longfellow Real Estate Partners has already bought the land where it wants to open a new lab. They want to invest here. That’s a seismic shift for Chapel Hill and a good sign (or a warning sign) that more investors and commercial developers will follow.

The building that houses The Purple Bowl and Chimney paid over $57,000 in taxes last year. Longfellow recently developed a lab in Durham that paid over $565,000 in taxes last year; the site paid less than $24,000 in taxes before it was developed. We believe the additional tax revenue would be greater in Chapel Hill given our higher land costs and a much-needed way to diversify and build our tax base beyond residential.

We also believe that downtown and Chapel Hill will benefit from projects like labs. We want businesses that spin off from UNC to remain in Chapel Hill, not set up shop in RTP or Durham. We want our wonderful students to have viable careers and a thriving downtown available to them in Chapel Hill when they graduate, instead of having to move to Raleigh or Durham as so many do now. 

Many of the buildings downtown have reached or are reaching the end of their useful lives. Most of the buildings on the north side of the 100 E. Franklin block are 100 years old and expensive to renovate, which means this is a conversation that’s going to come up time and time again.

As we’ve said repeatedly, we don’t want The Purple Bowl to go anywhere. It’s clear how much people love this funky local spot. (We do, too).

We’d like to see a solution that keeps The Purple Bowl in place or close by, and a new wet lab. That’s good for everyone in Chapel Hill.

 Melody Kramer and Stephen Whitlow, Triangle Blog Blog


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