University, town and development officials turned the dirt with Carolina blue shovels Thursday at the groundbreaking for the $123 million Carolina Square redevelopment project on West Franklin Street.
The retail, residential and office project, about a block from campus, replaces former University Square at 123 W. Franklin St. The demolished shopping and office complex was built roughly a half-century ago on the site of the original Chapel Hill High School.
The private Chapel Hill Foundation Real Estate Holdings Inc. bought the land in 2009 and is leasing it to developer, Cousins Properties.
Property manager Northwood Ravin is overseeing the construction of one 11-story and two five-story buildings with 246 luxury, market-rate apartments; 159,000 square feet of offices; and 42,000 square feet of retail. Crews could wrap up construction by summer 2017.
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Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt said Carolina Square represents the community “moving boldly forward.”
He said an artist’s conceptions show “the urban park that nearby residents said they wanted here in the heart of our downtown.”
“I see, in those artist’s conceptions, homes for people to live in, built-in customers for a 12-month economy on Franklin Street,” he said. “I see in those artist’s conceptions, and eagerly await, the office space that scientists and researchers on this campus have been telling me they need in order to capitalize on their research, to develop new businesses around their patents.”
It’s not clear if any previous tenants could return once Carolina Square is built. Some have closed – Swenson’s Ice Cream, Ken’s Quickie Mart, The Whistle Stop – while others found new locations.
“I, too, enjoyed some the things that were here at the former University Square,” said Kleinschmidt, referencing Time-Out Restaurant. “Of course, Time-Out.”
“Let’s help remind folks that even as we change as a community, we still have a tradition of holding on to what’s great about Chapel Hill,” he said. “We find new homes, we find new patrons, we find new places to play and eat and have fun. And there’s still a Time-Out. It’s just a block down the street.”
Cousins Properties is negotiating with several local and national tenants, officials said.
It also will have public venues, including a 0.6-acre park for performances and local events and The Core @ Carolina Square. Carolina Performing Arts will operate The Core, an 8,500-square-foot, $5 million arts innovation lab with studio and theater space. The lab’s goal is to bring together students and community members with world-class artists, scientists and researchers.
UNC’s Carolina Population Center and School of Public Health, Biostatistics and Epidemiology also will lease 62,000 square feet of office space, where they can work together on research.
The fact that it’s a multi-use facility is “extremely exciting,” UNC Chancellor Carol Folt said.
“Because when you bring different uses together, things happen that you could have never imagined possible,” Folt said.
“It’s going to be a place that houses researchers, and it’s also going to have artists,” she said. “It’s going to be a place where they have experiments, trying new ideas. It’s going to be a place where the community can experience that excitement that happens when you bring discovery and creativity together.”