Affordable commercial space is rare in Carrboro, but the town might have a way to help.
The Board of Aldermen got an update recently on “Project 86,” a staff-generated idea for building a warehouse business park for smaller crafts to larger assembly-type manufacturing operations on 22 acres off Old N.C. 86. The site is about a mile north of Calvander at Britton Drive.
The town bought the land for $775,000 in 2002 with plans to build a public works facility, said Annette Stone, Carrboro’s economic and community development director. She estimates the site could support about 95,000 square feet of flexible space, including four 20,000-square-foot buildings, one 10,000-square-foot building and one 5,000-square-foot building.
The idea is to lease the space for less than $9 a square foot, she said. While an online commercial search shows a few similarly priced commercial spaces for lease in Hillsborough, commercial rents in Carrboro and Chapel Hill start at double the proposed rate.
The county has at least three business parks near Hillsborough – Waterstone, Meadowlands and Old Mill – and has considered another in recent years on N.C. 57. Those parks do not offer affordable commercial leases.
“I’ve heard several real estate folks in town say they could sell this kind of space all day long and that the opportunity for businesses that are currently in the downtown that might want to relocate also will open up space in the downtown for other developments,” Stone said.
A house at the front of the property could become a small store, where employees could get lunch and neighbors buy staples, she said. The project should preserve the land’s rural character and limit customer traffic.
“I think that we’ll be very mindful of all those things (affecting) the neighborhood setting that it’s in. That’s a conversation that we’ve already started to have and want to have with the neighborhood,” Stone said.
Alderwoman Bethany Chaney advised being careful not to discourage artists and craftspeople who might be interested in low-cost space but want gallery and open studio events for the public. The ArtsCenter also has been thinking about branching out to other locations, she said.
Chatham County has offered artists a similar low-cost option for more than a decade at the N.C. Arts Incubator in Siler City.
“I think it’s just something that we want to think carefully about how we talk about it and what we’re trying to discourage and how we try to discourage it, without losing the real opportunity to do something fun and cool on a space like this,” Chaney said.
Stone suggested the town lease the land to a developer to keep the project affordable and seek county economic development money to add a turn lane, and water and sewer lines.
The proposal could return to the aldermen later this year, she said. Staff, with the board’s approval, would seek private developers to build the project to specific design criteria and lease it under rent-control measures.