Awaiting 'better' tenants

Franklin St. landlord doesn't want 'T-shirts and fast food'

Staff WriterDecember 7, 2005 

Two of downtown's most prominent empty storefronts may stay that way for a while.

Joe Riddle, a Fayetteville developer, owns the Top of the Hill building, with its vacant first floor, at Columbia and East Franklin streets, and the former University Chrysler dealership on West Franklin Street.

In an interview Tuesday, Riddle said he's waiting for the right tenant for the East Franklin space and isn't likely to develop the other property as residences and retail space until the East Franklin Street space is filled.

The first floor of that building was once occupied by The Gap, Sunglass Hut, First Union and the Carolina Theatre. They left one by one over the past 2 1/2 years. First Union, which left after its merger with Wachovia, still has its former property under lease.

Riddle said he'd like to find one tenant to use the Gap and theater spaces, which would be combined. He said he'd discussed the space with both CVS Pharmacy and Urban Outfitters, a clothing store aimed at teens and college-age shoppers, but neither company decided to lease it.

"I could cut it up and put T-shirts and fast-food shops in there if I wanted to," Riddle said. "I'm trying to bring something better in there."

Some board members of the Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership, a publicly funded group aimed at improving downtown, singled out Riddle's properties at a meeting Monday as key vacancies that must be filled. The overall vacancy rate downtown is 7 percent.

The West Franklin property, made up of five parcels, borders a town parking lot. Mayor Kevin Foy said after the meeting the town would be interested in helping Riddle develop a plan

"If you link it all together, including the town's parking lot, you have an unusually large piece of real estate for downtown Chapel Hill," Foy said.

Staff writer Lisa Hoppenjans can be reached at 932-2014 or lisa.hoppenjans@newsobserver.com.

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