Published: Sep 14, 2008 07:51 AM
Modified: Sep 14, 2008 07:51 AM
You can look at all the site plans and artist's renderings you want, but it's very difficult to truly envision a major development project until it actually exists.
The developers of the 300 East Main project in Carrboro have provided some nicely done plans and drawings (they're on display in the lobby at Town Hall).
Even so, it's hard to replace in your mind's eye what's there now -- mostly parking lot and the low-slung strip mall that houses the ArtsCenter and the Cat's Cradle, along with several other one-story buildings -- with what Main Street Partners proposes.
The plan calls for an array of five-story buildings with their facades up against the sidewalk, a hotel, a parking deck and a long pedestrian plaza slicing diagonally through the site. It's about as dramatic a change on that site as you can imagine.
And the project, if it comes to pass, will spawn more changes that aren't yet in any plans or drawings. 300 East Main will set a precedent, and it's entirely likely that future projects eventually will come forward across the street from 300 East Main.
If you're not inclined to embrace dramatic changes to downtown Carrboro, you're probably not thrilled about this prospect. And even if you do welcome big changes downtown, there may well be some aspects of the proposed plan or design that you're not entirely crazy about. What, no flying buttresses?
But on balance, Main Street Partners has carefully crafted a bold plan that should be a boost to the town.
The developers and architect are locals who care about Carrboro. They have taken the ideals the town's leaders have set forth -- an expanded commercial tax base, density in the business district, building up rather than out, public spaces and so on -- and given them form. They have proceeded during four years of planning with a great deal of public input, responsiveness and, to use a term in vogue these days, transparency.
When most of us think about the considerable charms of downtown Carrboro, we think primarily about the area west of the train tracks -- Weaver Street, Carr Mill Mall, the Century Center.
East of the tracks, there are some irreplaceable businesses and institutions, including the Cradle and The ArtsCenter, but the urban landscape there isn't particularly attractive or inviting. There are few places there where people naturally congregate.
The 300 East Main Project, especially the pedestrian plaza element, will expand the gathering-place part of downtown across the tracks. It will add new shops and restaurants without sacrificing the ones that are already there; the plan is for the Cradle and The ArtsCenter and the other existing businesses (except Performance bicycles) to stay on site, in bigger and better new spaces.
The project, it seems from here, has the potential to add to Carrboro without diminishing what Carrboro already is. It won't blot out the Weaver Street lawn. It won't impinge on the mill houses, interfere with the farmers market or stifle the hoopers.
The project is big. It's hard to fully envision. It represents a big leap, and that's always a bit frightening. But it's time to go ahead and leap.
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