A recent trip to Boulder, Colorado, showcased an experience that relates in many ways to Chapel Hill’s challenges and vision for itself, Mayor Pam Hemminger and others recently reported.
“No conclusions were made out there. It was an observing and questioning kind of experience,” Hemminger said. “We did see a lot of things that we think could be worked in here, but it’s going to be a series of conversations about how to make that work.”
The town paid just over $31,000 for Hemminger, five Town Council members and nine senior staff members to take the four-day trip sponsored by the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce. The funding came from the town’s annual travel budget, Hemminger said.
Carrboro, Hillsborough and Orange County leaders, plus residents, UNC, and development and real estate professionals, also paid to join the 82-member group.
Each inter-city trip every two years is an opportunity to learn what other places have done right and wrong, and to bring back ideas that might be repurposed here, said Kristen Smith, the chamber’s vice president for advocacy and engagement.
Boulder lacks Chapel Hill’s racial and generational diversity, a four-member panel said at the monthly Friends of Downtown meeting last week.
While about 100,000 people live in Boulder, roughly 98 percent of the city’s population is white, they said, and about 96 percent of the University of Colorado’s (CU) students are white. Nearly 57 percent of the population is age 18 to 44, the Boulder Economic Council reported.
About 73 percent of 59,568 Chapel Hillians are white, the U.S. Census reports, and nearly 55 percent are age 18 to 44. UNC student body is 62 percent white.
It was an observing and questioning kind of experience.
Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger
Other findings from Boulder:
Building a place
▪ Modern buildings are limited to 55 feet tall to preserve the treeline and views of the Rocky Mountains’ Flatirons, or foothills
▪ An 80-block downtown features 170 retail stores, 100 restaurants, and the pedestrian-only Pearl Street Mall, geared toward children and families, with splash pools, street performers and kid-friendly statues, management consultant Fred Black said. Students have their own “downtown” near campus.
While closing Franklin Street isn’t feasible, Town Council member Michael Parker noted “with relatively small investments in details, you can make a very big difference and make your downtown much more attractive to families, to young people, to the elderly.”
▪ The average Boulder home costs $1 million, and the average median income is $94,800 for a family of four. In Chapel Hill, the average home costs $450,000, and the average median income for a family of four is $74,900.
▪ Boulder has invested for decades in infrastructure and land now used for projects, such as the Holiday Neighborhood, a former drive-in theater turned public-private, mixed-use development where 42 percent of the 333 housing units are affordable to residents earning up to 60 percent of the area median income.
The experience could be applied to the American Legion land and how it can fit into Chapel Hill’s bigger picture, Hemminger said.
▪ Denver’s Regional Transportation District offers local bus and bus rapid transit service, eight commuter rail lines and the Fastracks light-rail system. The light-rail plan touted as ambitious has created service adjustments and an operating fund shortage.
▪ Bicycles are popular, and racks of them for rent are all over town, panel members said. There are protected bicycle lanes on local roads and over 150 trail miles.
▪ Roughly 60,000 people commute for Boulder’s 100,000 jobs, more than half in professional or managerial fields; about 10 percent work in manufacturing.
▪ A majority of sales tax revenues are from food and beverages
▪ Downtown rents are double those in Chapel Hill, at roughly $55 to $70 a square foot, but the retail vacancy rate is a low 1.9 percent and office is 6.7 percent
▪ Legal marijuana production created a shortage of warehouse space; the vacancy rate was 3.2 percent in April.
▪ The towns, university and businesses collaborate with entrepreneurs, offering multiple incubators and accelerators, said Dina Rousset, with the Launch Chapel Hill incubator. Chapel Hill needs accelerators that provide more venture funding for startups, Hemminger said.
▪ Building heights force larger companies to Denver, but it’s seen as a success for the region, Rousset said.