The Inter-Faith Council’s proposed FoodFirst building at 110 W. Main St. features a glassed-in stairwell, outdoor space to grow herbs and other plants, and a courtyard.
One thing you won’t see, if current plans are approved, is the front door, outside which crowds might line up on the sidewalk while they wait for hot meals.
“That was something we got real early in the process,” says interim executive co-director John Dorward. “That was something we heard (people did not want) over and over again.”
Instead, the three-story design by Carrboro architect Jim Spencer places the entrance inside the courtyard, which is separated from the sidewalk by a waist-to-shoulder high wall.
People can gather, get out of the elements or socialize, but the courtyard wall should keep large groups from standing on the street or being seen by passersby, which has been a complaint about the IFC’s current Community Kitchen at 100 W. Rosemary St. in downtown Chapel Hill, Dorward said.
Administrative offices, a community meeting room and an adjoining balcony would be located on the upper floor.
The project, many years in the making, goes before a joint meeting of the town’s advisory boards Thursday night. They’ll review and offer suggestions on a concept plan, a first step in the development process, before the IFC submits a formal application.
The FoodFirst building will combine the kitchen, IFC food pantry and the agency’s offices and other programs.
Its location has been controversial.
The Carrboro Merchants Association asked the IFC to look elsewhere, even though the social services agency owns the West Main Street property. The Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce has said a community kitchen doesn’t belong in the central business district.
The IFC looked for other sites in 2009-10 and again earlier this year, when it investigated 10 sites, including the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools’ Lincoln Center campus, which will be expanded if Tuesday’s school bond passes.
The agency considered cost, location on a bus line and other factors before deciding that replacing its building on West Main Street was the best choice.
“It’s not a done deal,” Dorward said last week during an open house at the IFC @ SECU Community House on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, another IFC project that faced some local opposition.
The Board of Aldermen voted 7-0 this year to change the town’s land use rules so social service agencies could serve meals. The IFC currently provides lunch and dinner for between 75 and 125 people a day at its Chapel Hill kitchen, Dorward said.
But the IFC still needs to raise $5.1 million for the project.
“We have very little of that in hand,” Dorward said. “We’re just getting started.”
But as he gave a tour of the new men’s transitional housing shelter, he said the IFC has tried to listen to the community as it plans FoodFirst and hopes to submit a formal application by the end of the year.
“The current plans for FoodFirst are a reflection of the time spent thus far and the input of many people,” Spencer says on the project’s website, ifcfoodfirst.org.
“The building’s exterior is intended to present a civic front – a building which fronts Main Street strongly and replaces the existing parking lot,” he says. “The exterior design also reflects IFC’s goals of service and stewardship.
The courtyard, which he describes as “a large gathering space for clients” is out of the public right of way and also screens 21 parking spaces under the building.
“People could come before a meal and have a place to be that was not on the public sidewallk, but it would be covered, it’d be a nicer transition area between the street and going into the building itself,” Spencer said in an interview Monday.
A loading dock at the rear of the building would improve deliveries and keep separate them from client services, he said. The IFC also could pave the parking lot behind its building and add new lighting, he said.
“We’ve talked with Provence and El Centro to make sure everybody’s trucks can get back to the same place. Hopefully, that will consolidate some of the delivery services,” Spencer said.
Thursday’s meeting begins at 7 p.m. at McDougle Elementary School, 890 Old Fayetteville Road.
Staff writer Tammy Grubb contributed to this story.