We talked less about Franklin Street than Rosemary Street--a stretch of pavement and dirt paths every bit as important to the vitality of the area, but considerably less utilized. The mayor called the surface parking lot at the corner of Columbia and Rosemary streets--Parking Lot 2 in the town parlance--one of the most underutilized urban spaces in the state.
Now, a decade and a half later, changes in the works for Rosemary Street in Chapel Hill and Main Street in Carrboro (the street Rosemary runs into) have the potential to turn a couple of old Southern thoroughfares with a mixed bag of brick storefronts, old houses, parking lots and watering holes into one of this region's most interesting and inviting stretches. Throw into the mix the evolution of Carrboro's Jones Ferry Road, and you have the makings of a truly grand meridian extending from the Chatham County line to the heart of Carrboro and the academic barrio of Chapel Hill. Both towns have active plans to increase the amount of commercial and residential space along the streets. Success will depend on how well those executing the plans manage to sustain the unique nature of the streets as they fill in the blank spots and underutilized spaces.
Further west is that underutilized parking lot (Parking Lot Number 2, remember). And cattycorner from it is the soon to be official former home of the InterFaith Council Shelter and Community Kitchen. Both spaces are set for major changes. Slated for Lot 2 is a mix of commercial and residential space. The same is true for the town-owned Lot 5, a block further west and just across the street from an expanded La Residence, the town's first French restaurant.
Whether you think it's good or bad, the shelter's move--where to is as yet undecided--will free up another public building and launch, undoubtedly, another project and guarantee a vastly different feel to that core area.
The timeline for change farther down is a little shorter. Developer Tom Tucker is in mid-construction of a set of luxury condos on the corner of Mitchell Lane and Rosemary Street. That's a welcome project if you happen to own or work in the handful of restaurants like the nearby Breadman's or Fuse across the street or Mama Dip's next door or Carrburritos down the street. But the introduction of seriously priced real estate to that stretch of the street underlines one of downtown's biggest challenges: how to provide additional living space without obliterating the traditionally African-American, working-class Northside neighborhood. To do that, community leaders and the town recently were able to pass rules that should stifle a trend toward student-oriented, giant-sized "duplexes" (sometimes five bedrooms to a side) that were springing up in the area. But Tucker's project, if successful, is probably a harbinger of the type of housing along the main drag.
From there, specifically from the recently approved, Siler City-sized Brier Chapel, an influx of thousands of commuter students, hungry customers and suburban teenage rockers--all in search of a quicker way into town than the soon-to-be packed U.S. 15-501--will make their way along the meridian and into town.
And all along the way, dozens of new shops and new hangouts will be waiting for them and anyone willing to consider that there is something happening--big things, really--off Franklin Street's well-beaten path.