The eight blocks that span Franklin Street from Henderson Street to Merritt Mill Road are the backbone of our small town. Having a strong backbone is a good thing.
In my college days I would often eat breakfast at Ye Olde Waffle Shop, then stroll up Franklin Street to see the folks at Wentworth and Sloan Jewelers to talk Tar Heel sports and find that perfect gift for someone special. Stroll a bit farther too see the Flower Ladies to buy a bouquet or just to talk. Stroll a bit farther still and stop in Milton’s Clothing Cupboard to pick up a new shirt or tie from Mr. Julian. A one-block stroll could take an hour depending on the subject matter.
In the evenings a group of friends would meet at He’s Not Here for a few beers before going out to dinner … maybe at Papagayo’s, The Ratskeller or Crooks. The evening would be topped off by music and dancing at the Cat’s Cradle in one of its earlier locales. All of that food, fun and frolicking took place within these precious eight blocks. Back then and for years afterwards Franklin Street was a vibrant, fun and integral part of the fabric of Chapel Hill.
I’m not sure when it happened, but at some point in the past 15 years Franklin Street became a thoroughfare only … five lanes of traffic getting folks from point A to point B. Businesses began to leave as rents were raised to unreasonable levels, panhandling and vagrancy became a real problem, fee-only parking became a deterrent to shoppers and nearby multi-use developments began drawing business away from our town center.
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I feel we need to stop looking for the next big development and turn our attention back to our core, our backbone that is downtown Franklin Street. Rather than grow out and up let’s get smaller, more nimble, more quaint. Get out of your car and get on your feet, your bike or jump on the trolley. Here is what I mean:
1. Reduce this eight-block section of Franklin Street from five lanes to two lanes of traffic
2. Design cut-ins for delivery trucks and some short-term parking
3. Use the extra space to expand outdoor sidewalk seating for restaurants, bars and display areas for shops
4. Use the extra space for public seating, public artwork and new streetscape
5. Create a CHAT (Chapel Hill Area Transit) Hop-on trolley that only runs back and forth along Franklin Street from Eastgate Shopping Center to Weaver Street Market (yes, into Carrboro)
6. Work with the university and other Franklin Street landlords to bring in a variety of diverse businesses to downtown
7. Create a Town Commons by closing off Church Street between Franklin and Rosemary, then combine that space with the wider sidewalks and the plaza at 140 West
8. Host a real farmer’s market at the Town Commons every weekend of the summer
9. Host free music events at the Town Commons throughout the year and not just rely on one or two festivals to bring folks downtown
10. Create a foot patrol, where officers stroll along this eight block area to enforce our panhandling and vagrancy laws, and to simply give peace of mind to merchants and citizens
11. Work with downtown churches and the University to open up their parking lots after 6pm for free downtown parking and turn existing town owned parking lots into decks
There are a lot of issues to discuss in this year’s election, but in my opinion, nothing is more important for the long-term success of our town than a charming, vibrant and successful downtown corridor.
As a candidate for Town Council, I pledge to work for the greater good of Chapel Hill and my first priority will be creating a wonderful downtown that will make us all proud to be called Chapel Hillians.
Adam W. Jones is a candidate for Chapel Hill Town Council. He owns of Mill House Properties is married and the father of two young girls. You can learn more at www.adamjonesfortowncouncil.com .