Chapel Hill News

April 27, 2014

Chapel Hill’s University Square redevelopment could start later this year

Five years and three university chancellors later, the University Square redevelopment on West Franklin Street is taking the final steps before demolition and construction, project officials said Thursday.

Five years and three university chancellors later, the University Square redevelopment on West Franklin Street is taking the final steps before demolition and construction.

The 123 West Franklin project, assuming the final reviews and building permits stay on track, could kick off in late 2014 or early 2015, said Gordon Merklein, executive director of the UNC Chapel Hill Real Estate Holdings Foundation Inc.

Five existing buildings would be razed to make way for two five-story buildings fronting West Franklin Street and one 11-story building at the center of the property. REH, a private foundation that owns, develops and manages real estate projects for the university and affiliated groups, is leasing the land to the developer.

“We’re looking forward to it,” Merklein said.

REH bought the shopping center for $45.75 million in 2009. The redevelopment project has been valued at $80 million to $100 million and includes a payment of $250,000 over five years into the town’s affordable-housing fund.

Merklein and development representatives from Atlanta-based Cousins Properties and Northwood Ravin of Raleigh updated dozens of interested residents Thursday at the monthly Friends of the Downtown meeting in The Franklin Hotel.

The project, approved last year, could include 300 market-rate apartments, 45,000 square feet of retail and 125,000 square feet of office space in three buildings. Roughly 915 spaces are planned for above- and below-ground parking decks.

Project officials and the Town Council talked last year about the possibility of public parking at night and on weekends, but Merklein said it’s not clear yet what might be available to people who aren’t visiting the complex.

The centerpiece of the redevelopment is a roughly one-acre public courtyard, he said.

Situated at the end of a planned Church Street extension and directly across from the 140 West Franklin Plaza, the courtyard could tie together the new buildings with the existing Granville Towers student housing complex and with other downtown buildings and events, he said.

Students could rent one of the studio, one- or two-bedroom apartments, but they are being marketed to young professionals and families, said Jeff Furman, vice president of development at Northwood Ravin. Future residents will see granite counters, nine- to 10-foot ceilings, tile bathrooms and large windows typical of a market-rate condo, he said.

“Our apartments are going to look like probably a $400,000 or $500,000 house,” Furman said.

The apartments also will include environmentally sustainable fixtures, such as Energy Star appliances and water-conservation tools, officials said. Existing building materials and fixtures could be recycled, but eco-friendly building design elements are not in the plans, they said.

The UNC Population Center is the only confirmed tenant that could return after construction, Merklein said. Most of University Square’s former and remaining businesses are likely to stay where they they have relocated, move or close, he said.

Project officials declined to name potential tenants.

“We have talked to a lot of retailers. I have talked to some grocers,” said Bill Bassett, senior vice president for Cousins Properties. “It will be difficult to get a grocery in this complex” because of how trucks would have to negotiate the property.

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