CARRBORO — Four five-story buildings, including Carrboro's only hotel and a parking deck, will replace the current ArtsCenter/Cat's Cradle shopping center.
On Tuesday, the Board of Aldermen unanimously approved 300 East Main Street, a "transformational" project expected to be the gateway to Carrboro.
Carrboro leaders acknowledged the worries of many residents that the project is too large and will attract unwanted chain businesses to a town that prides itself on its Bohemian mystique.
But they approved it because it met the letter of Carrboro zoning ordinances and because it is expected to shore up the town's commercial tax base.
"Change is painful, but it's necessary if we're going to continue to lead," Alderman John Herrera said. "I think this will be good for the taxpayers of Carrboro."
Laura Van Sant, developer of the project, said construction is slated to begin early next year. The first phase, including the hotel and 18,500 square feet of retail/restaurant space, is scheduled to open by 2010.
The plan is for Cat's Cradle, the fabled live-music venue, to halt operations for no more than a day or two, Van Sant said.
"From Day One, that's one of the reasons for doing the project, to give the Cat's Cradle some more space," she said after the vote.
Alderman Jacquelyn Gist said many of her friends and supporters have urged her to vote against the project, and she was inclined to do as they wished.
"I am not very happy with this project," she said. "In my heart of hearts I want to vote against it. I strongly believe it's not good for the town that I love. It's too much. It's too dense. It's too high for our small historic town."
But she said she felt obligated to approve it because it met the requirements of Carrboro ordinances.
The aldermen also got a curve ball Tuesday night when Van Sant told them that Hampton Inn was the likely hotelier -- not a Hilton Garden Inn as had been pitched for some months.
"Hampton is a couple steps down from a Hilton Garden Inn," Gist said. "I haven't seen any Hamptons that I would like to see in Carrboro."
Van Sant said after the meeting that Hampton Inn actually was the initial idea for a hotel operator when the project was being hatched a few years ago. It was seen as a better fit because of its affordability.
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