CARRBORO -- Four buildings. Five stories. Free parking.Plans for the redevelopment of the East Main Street shopping center housing the ArtsCenter and Cat's Cradle come before the Board of Aldermen Tuesday night. The board will hold a public hearing on the nearly 400,000 square-foot project at 7:30 p.m. in Town Hall. Supporters say the plan achieves town goals for walkability, more intense downtown development and increasing the commercial tax base. Developer Main Street Properties is seeking a conditional use project. If the aldermen approve that, most likely at a future meeting, the developers expect to begin construction in early 2009. The first part of the project would replace the current Performance Bicycle location with a new hotel. (The bike shop is moving to Eastgate shopping center.)
Keeping the vibe
The project -- officially called 300 East Main Street -- will dramatically reshape downtown Carrboro. The property stretches from Boyd Street by Nice Price Books to the gravel parking lot at Roberson Street across from Armadillo Grill. The lot, now open to the public, is owned by the developers and will revert to private use as the project gets under way. But partner Laura Van Sant, a spokeswoman for Main Street Properties, says the developers have tried to respect Carrboro's character. A diagonal plaza through the project continues a pedestrian corridor from Weaver Street Market's front lawn. The plaza will be wide enough to accommodate outdoor dining and vendors selling from carts."We're not trying to create a new Carrboro vibe," she said.The town approved a permit for the first mixed-use building in June 2007. The new permit would include that future building in with the rest of the project: a five-story, 150-room hotel, a five story parking garage (with additional rooftop and underground levels), and three more buildings. The developers are working with the Atma Hotel Group, which owns the two Hampton Inns and the Holiday Inn Express in Chapel Hill. "We're really looking forward to it," said President Manish Atma. "We've been working on this project for four and a half years now." Atma is negotiating with Hilton Hotels to open a Hilton Garden Inn, with a full-service restaurant, an indoor/outdoor swimming pool and, in keeping with the Carrboro vibe, bicycle rentals. The ArtsCenter, which owns its space, would either continue in that space or possibly move partly or completely into a new spot in the shopping center.
Good for tax base
"I think it's great,' said James Carnahan, the chairman of the town planning board. "It really moves us a long way to important goals for increasing the commercial tax base and increasing the intensity of use downtown."The Board of Aldermen wants to double Carrboro's commercial tax base, which was about 12 percent of the town's total tax base, according to a 2005 board resolution. The project's 800-plus parking spaces fall short of the 1,100 parking spaces the town would normally require. But Van Sant thinks they can make that work because daytime office workers would free spaces for nighttime shoppers and diners. On busy weekend nights, a valet parking service would enable vehicles to be double parked in the deck. Van Sant says the developers plan to provide the parking free for tenants and customers. "One of Carrboro's real advantages is it's relatively easy to park in Carrboro and it's free,' she said. "Everything's close together, and we want to keep it that way."The project does not have a residential component. But at least four nearby condominium projects are in various stages of the town's development review process (See related story in today's Real Estate section.). One of those is The Butler, just behind 300 East Main Street. Carnahan said the planning board wants to make sure there is visual and pedestrian access to the Butler and that the path to the future building from Main Street remains handicapped accessible. Van Sant says the Butler will be visible and that Main Street Properties wants a grade-level connection that will let people walk between the two projects.
The ArtsCenter is looking at the future of its own building.Executive director Jon Wilner has been talking to the county and schools officials about putting an arts magnet middle school in a new building. He also was approached recently about a new ArtsCenter building housing a Carrboro library. The current library is located in McDougle Middle School and has limited hours.It's very early in the discussion process of both those ideas. Wilner says once he knows how his future building might be used, the ArtsCenter will be able to launch a fundraising campaign."I don't think we can start to raise money until we know what we want to build," Wilner said. "Participation by the county and the schools changes everything." Wilner says his board and Main Street Properties still need to work out issues like where the ArtsCenter ends up, the size of the building's footprint and other issues. But he said he's optimistic the issues will be resolved."I do wish there was more time," before the aldermen consider 300 East Main Street, he said. "But that being said, does the ArtsCenter want to get in the way of this project? Absolutely not." "I think it's going to be fantastic for Carrboro, for the whole community,"