Orange County

Carrboro aldermen reject arts center, hotel plan

Architect Phil Szostak says this is one concept of how the proposed Carrboro Arts and Innovation Center might look.
Architect Phil Szostak says this is one concept of how the proposed Carrboro Arts and Innovation Center might look. PHIL SZOSTAK

The Carrboro Board of Aldermen sent the backers of a proposed downtown Arts and Innovation Center back to the drawing board this week.

The ArtsCenter and the Kidzu Children’s Museum had proposed moving into a new four-story, 55,000-square-foot building at 200 E. Main St. The plan called for a new Hilton Garden Inn and parking garage to be built on the current ArtsCenter site at 300 E. Main St.

The two groups were asking the town to contribute $4.5 million of the project’s $12 million construction cost. They said the town could borrow the money and pay back bond proceeds with increased property tax revenue and proceeds from the proposed hotel’s occupancy tax.

The aldermen, already unsure they could legally use the occupancy tax for a new building, balked.

“The numbers just don’t add up,” Alderman Damon Seils said at the board’s meeting Thursday night. He and Alderman Sammy Slade said the financial projections come up about $400,000 short of what’s needed to fund the project.

“What if a lobbying group comes along and gets the occupancy tax thrown out?” asked Alderwoman Jacquie Gist. “We’d still have the bond to pay.”

“And then there’s another $3 million,” that the ArtsCenter and Kidzu planned to seek from the county, said Alderwoman Michelle Johnson. “Perhaps they will give that $3 million, but no discussions have happened with the county about that.”

The board unanimously rejected grouping the new arts building and hotel in one project.

“Two capital projects shouldn’t be linked,” said Alderwoman Bethany Chaney. “There might be interest in hitting the ‘reset’ button and not the ‘reject’ button on this project.”

Chaney proposed the town help the groups with “a path to a new proposal,” clarifying what Carrboro wants in new development, what resources are available and what timelines to expect in the review process.

“We haven’t struggled with a plan like this before, because we’ve never had a proposal like this,” Chaney said.

“We need a ‘Development 101’ ” for both prospective developers and the board, she said.

Despite rejecting the CAIC proposal, the aldermen suggested they might still support a new downtown arts center. If the town is to contribute millions of dollars, they said, the aldermen and the public must be involved from the outset.

At two public hearings in recent weeks, the aldermen also heard concern about the Cat’s Cradle, an existing tenant in the 300 East Main development. Owner Frank Heath told the board he needs more space to stay competitive on the Triangle live-music scene.

The board agreed to ask the county how local governments might help the club and other businesses that need new space. Small-business retention, Seils said, is an area where the county might be able to help.