by Billy Ball
A $15 million downtown Carrboro development with tremendous implications for the town received a predictably mixed reaction during a public hearing Tuesday night in packed Carrboro Town Hall.
Some locals offered concerns about the financial risks of the proposed Carrboro Arts and Innovation Center, a four-story, 55,000-square-foot structure at East Main and Roberson streets which would house Carrboro's long-running ArtsCenter and Kidzu Children's Museum, currently located in Chapel Hill.
Others, such as former Carrboro mayors Mark Chilton and Ellie Kinnaird, urged town leaders not to miss this chance. Supporters said the facility would have an estimated $320 million economic impact over 25 years.
"This is such a great opportunity," said Betsy Bennett, co-chairwoman of the Kidzu board of directors.
Tuesday's hearing drew so much public interest that town leaders said they would continue the hearing on Feb. 3.
The Arts and Innovation Center was initially estimated to cost $12.1 million, with $4.6 million in funding requested from the town. But project backers presented different numbers Tuesday night, announcing they needed $15 million, evenly split between public and private sources, to make the project happen.
Supporters said the building—which would serve as a performing arts space as well as the children's museum—would be a major boon for Carrboro and its businesses, a sentiment shared by many who spoke Tuesday.
"I couldn't be more excited," said Betsy Bertram, manager of Townsend Bertram & Co., an outdoor outfitter located in Carrboro's Carr Mill Mall. "I couldn't think of anything better for Carrboro's future."
Wendy Smith, co-owner of Cameron's Gift Shop in the neighboring 300 E. Main St. development, said she expects performances at the center would increase foot traffic at local businesses.
However, others echoed the concerns of some members of the Carrboro Board of Aldermen, questioning whether the small Orange County municipality should be asked to help finance the center and take on its risks. The nonprofit ArtsCenter, which serves as a performing arts space and works in local schools to support arts education, has been troubled by budget shortfalls in the last decade.
"We need to proceed with caution," said Brad Bonneville, a downtown Carrboro resident and owner of Bonneville Electric on Maple Avenue. "This is a risky venture and it could be dangerous for Carrboro."
Others said the town should invest the funds in infrastructure needs, citing frequent flooding and drainage concerns in some Carrboro neighborhoods.
Nathan Milian, manager of Carr Mill Mall, said the town should first determine where the center's patrons would park.
"The town should not rush to judgment," Milian said.