Orange County

Cat's Cradle owner, Carrboro developers at odds over downtown project

Architect Phil Szostak stresses this is just a concept of how the proposed Carrboro Arts & Innovation Center might look.
Architect Phil Szostak stresses this is just a concept of how the proposed Carrboro Arts & Innovation Center might look. PHIL SZOSTAK

Will it stay or will it go?

Despite an appearance by the owner of the Cat’s Cradle at a public hearing Tuesday night, the music club’s future in the 300 East Main redevelopment project remains a mystery.

Owner Frank Heath said when Main Street Partners first talked about redeveloping the downtown Carrboro shopping center that houses his nationally known club, he understood the group planned to include a new home for the Cradle and The ArtsCenter, another venue at the site.

But the Cradle has not been part of the latest proposed addition to the project: a $12 million, 55,000-square-foot building that The ArtsCenter and Chapel Hill’s Kidzu Children’s Museum want to build on a parking lot next to the 300 E. Main St. shopping center.

The Board of Aldermen first discussed the proposed Carrboro Arts and Innovation Center last month, and another audience filled Town Hall as the public hearing continued Tuesday. The plan seeks $4.5 million from the town, which supporters say would come from future property taxes and hotel occupancy taxes.

Before Heath spoke, Laura Van Sant, of Main Street Partners, told the aldermen the developers have made several offers to help move the Cat’s Cradle but have been turned down each time.

Heath, who had been scheduled to speak next, instead left the meeting for a while. He returned later and said Van Sant’s comments did not reflect his experience of the last six or seven years.

“Most arts organizations tend to put more priority on the arts that they’re promoting than on the bottom line,” Heath said. “Both the Cradle and The ArtsCenter are organizations that fall in that category. We can’t always pay the same rent as other organizations, because we’re spending a lot of money on things that don’t bring dollars back necessarily.”

Heath said talks about relocating have “stalled out.” He also said his club is maxed out at its current location in the converted strip mall and needs to move to compete in the live music business.

The ArtsCenter and Kidzu proposal also includes a Hilton Garden Inn that Main Street Partners would build at the current site of The ArtsCenter, right beside the Hampton Inn and Suites that Main Street built in 2013. Both hotels brands are owned by Hilton Hotels and Resorts.

The original proposal called for office space there. Kevin Benedict, a partner with Main Street, said if the plan moves ahead, the firm would ask the aldermen to allow the switch of uses.

Manish Atma, principal partner with Main Street, said the Hampton Inn is at 67 percent occupancy.

Atma said Hilton wants to open the new hotel by October 2016, and that if that timetable cannot be met, the proposal may fall apart.

The aldermen will discuss the Carrboro Arts and Innovation Center proposal at their Feb. 17 meeting in Carrboro Town Hall.

‘A critical piece’

Alderman Sammy Slade suggested he would support using town money to keep the Cat’s Cradle in Carrboro, noting that the town spends money to attract new businesses not nearly as iconic as the club.

“I don’t really know exactly what happened in the promises made by 300 East Main and the follow-up from those promises till now,” Slade said. “But I feel that it is the responsibility of this community, of the developers, of the hotel, of the community at large and this board of aldermen to be creative in making sure that such a significant organization remains in this town.”

Alderwoman Randee Haven O’Donnell also expressed support for the club: “The Cradle is a critical piece, and we’ve known this since the beginning.”

Alderwoman Bethany Chaney said she would like to know the club’s economic impact on the town.

Town Manager David Andrews said the town’s staff could work with the club to get those numbers.

The financing plan for the Carrboro Arts and Innovation Center, including the new hotel, would likely require the General Assembly’s support because it requires expanding how the town can spend its hotel occupancy tax.

Carrboro has been authorized by state law to collect a 3 percent hotel and motel room levy since 2001. The law requires the town to spend the revenue on tourism. The Arts and Innovation Center plan would use part of the money to help pay for construction.