Nov 17, 2022 - News

The future of Chapel Hill's Franklin Street

A presentation of the redevelopment of 306 W. Franklin St. Rendering courtesy of Town of Chapel Hill

Chapel Hill's Franklin Street looks set for yet another big transformation.

Driving the news: Boston-based Longfellow Real Estate Partners, a lab-space developer with a history in downtown Durham and Research Triangle Park, is setting its sights on a property at 306 W. Franklin St. for one of its next big projects.

  • The property is currently home to the Purple Bowl, Indian restaurant Chimney and the Blue Dogwood Public Market.

Why it matters: Chapel Hill has pushed hard to bring more office and lab space to its downtown in an effort to diversify its economy, prevent promising startups from leaving for Durham County and avoid the business doldrums of the summer months in a college town.

Details are scant, but a presentation to the town sketches out the possibility of lab and retail space, much like Longfellow has done with the Durham Innovation District, home to Google and other companies.

It's the latest office project to target downtown Chapel Hill, along with Grubb Properties project at 137 E. Franklin St. and 136 E. Rosemary St. and the university-driven redevelopment of Porthole Alley.

Yes, but: Local businesses are worried about the street losing its character.

  • Taylor Gilland, owner of the Purple Bowl, said he believes the project will likely mean the demise of his popular acai bowl business.
  • "We put almost 500 grand into making the space ready for us," he said. "We'd have to do that again … and all the time that goes into it. I just don't think that math equation works."

Matt Gladdek, executive director of the Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership, said that the town and his organization are working to find new space for businesses displaced by new construction.

  • "We highly value our businesses that are already here," he told Axios. "So we're gonna work really hard to retain all of those businesses."

What's next: Longfellow is still early in the development process and has yet to submit a proposal to the town council, which will ultimately vote to approve or deny the plan.

  • Gilland hopes that the town can find a solution that involves businesses like the Purple Bowl.
  • "Chapel Hill used to feel like a funky, cool college town," Gilland said. "Now it feels like a corporate office park."

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