CHAPEL HILL — The view from the top floor of 140 West Franklin is a stunning panorama of Chapel Hill and Orange, Durham and Wake counties.
Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt could barely contain his excitement Wednesday as he welcomed a small group of dignitaries and media below to Franklin Street’s new, $55 million development and its public plaza.
140 West’s modern brick and glass construction replaces a longtime parking lot with a mix of condominiums and ground-floor retail and restaurants. Kleinschmidt said it also realizes the town’s vision for environmentally sound development, social equity and affordable housing. It will open with an official public celebration April 26.
“We wanted to have people living in this space, not just cars parked on a lot. We wanted people to be spending money and contributing to our future financial and economic health. We wanted … the people who choose to spend any time, whether it’s living or spending money, to have a good time here,” Kleinschmidt said.
Its first commercial tenant, the Lime Fresh Mexican Grill, had Coronas on ice for a packed lunch crowd Wednesday. Other tenants arriving this summer include Gigi’s Cupcakes and the Eye Care Center, said Kendria Sweet, owner of Sweet Tea Consulting.
Developer Ram Realty Services is negotiating with other tenants who could move into the 26,000-square-foot, first-floor commercial space, Sweet said. She declined to name names but said more retail and one or two more restaurants are possible.
Ram Realty Chairman Peter Cummings said the 27,000-square-foot plaza at 140 West gives people a place to meet and congregate. The architects did a great job with the development’s scale, its geometry, even the play of light and shade, he said.
Ram Realty has paid $200,000 and is working with the town’s public arts office to schedule a variety of public performances, including regular Wednesday-lunch and Friday-evening events.
The developer also paid $624,000 for two pieces of public art. Other regional artists’ works will hang inside the building, Sweet said.
A stainless steel structure by landscape architect and artist Mikyoung Kim provides the focal point, Cummings said.
“Just imagine that a large prehistoric creature has lumbered onto the site, has sighed its last, has shuddered and died, and the outcropping of that prehistoric creature is what we have left. This is the great thing about art, because it fires the imagination,” he said.
“Exhale” is about two weeks from being complete, Kim said. Once the misting system and the choreographed lights are in place, it will light up the night through a film of watery mist and fog.
A second piece, artist Gordon Huether’s lacquered metal artwork, “Tar Heel Blues,” will hang from the building’s Rosemary Street entrance.
The eight-story building’s remaining floors are residential. Sweet said roughly 105 of the 140 “plaza homes” are under contract or have been sold at prices from the mid-$300,000s to more than $1 million.
About 60 percent of the new owners have a Carolina connection, she said. They’re alumni, university professors, hospital employees and Chapel Hill residents looking to downsize, she said. A few Duke University employees are moving in, too. Occupancy limits in the lease will keep 140 West from attracting too many students, she said.
Eighteen homes are set aside as “affordable” – priced at $110,000 to $120,000 – and are being sold through Community Home Trust, a local affordable housing nonprofit.
The development also will add to the town’s parking stock with 176 owner-resident spaces and 161 town-owned spaces in an underground garage and on the street.