BY KATELYN FERRAL, Staff Writer, Chapel Hill News
CHAPEL HILL – It’s been more than a decade, but ground is finally being broken on the space formerly known as Lot 5.
Construction begins today on the 140 West Franklin condominium, retail and parking project at the intersections of Franklin, Church and Rosemary streets downtown.
The $75 million project will include 140 homes, 26,000 square feet of ground-level retail space and 337 parking spaces. Ram Realty Services is the project developer, and the general contractor is John Moriarty & Associates Inc. Construction will last about two years.
The building will stand four stories tall along the street and step back to eight stories at the center. Eighteen of the 140 living units will be sold at discounted rates to meet the town’s affordable housing guideline.
After years of planning and some delays, developers are ecstatic to see it finally under way, said Jon Keener, Ram development manager for the project. The groundbreaking celebration will be held Jan. 5.
“We think it’s the right project to help strengthen downtown,” he said. “The whole goal is to unite East and West Franklin streets and bring some of the vitality of Franklin Street to Church Street.”
There will be a two-level underground parking deck including a dedicated public level owned and operated by the town of Chapel Hill. The town will pay Ram a maximum of $7.245 million for public parking spaces, or $45,000 per parking space, after construction, according to the town.
The project also will feature a large outdoor public plaza with a stainless steel misting fountain designed by landscape artist Mikyoung Kim.
The town will lose 103 parking spaces in the public lot currently located at the site but plans to create 107 replacement spaces at satellite lots on Rosemary Street and behind the old University Chrysler building on Basnight Lane.
Ram won’t say if it has signed any retailers yet.
About half of the available condominiums have been sold, with one-bedrooms selling in the high $200,000s and top-floor terrace condos selling for at least $600,000, according to Ram.
Paul Hrusovsky bought his condo in the complex about a year ago and is eager to see the project get started. Hrusovsky and partner David Lindquist are downsizing from their home off Whitfield Road to a 1,600 square foot two-bedroom condominium overlooking Rosemary Street.
“We liked the idea of being able to walk to things and have a smaller space and have a sense of community within the building,” said Hrusovsky, who taught art in the city schools for more than 25 years and is on the board of the FRANK art gallery on Franklin Street.
Convenience and walkability and community were big draws for Hrusovsky, as are some of the reviews on downtown living he’s gotten from friends at Greenbridge, just down the street. New condominium owners at 140 West Franklin have already gotten together for a cocktail party and symphony outing, he said.
“I think getting more people to live downtown is a good thing,” he said. “I know people in Greenbridge, and they seem to really be enjoying their lifestyle and being able to walk downtown and live in space that they don’t have to worry about the upkeep.”
The 140 West Franklin project will fill a downtown void, said Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt. Lot 5 was almost like a wall between East and West Franklin, he said.
“You’ll see a change in the way at least some people engage with Franklin Street,” he said. “It will put people in the space, not just people who are quickly moving through the space.”
Town officials hope the project will enhance downtown in the long run, but its construction offers a distinct set of challenges, Kleinschmidt said.
“I’m a little bit nervous only about the construction, because construction on project of this scale can be so destructive,” he said. “[With] machines and cement mixers it’s like the opposite of what we ultimately want. That’s just what happens when you’re creating something new – you create a mess.”
Merchants on Church Street and Ram have reached an agreement about when that street will be closed. Originally, Church Street was scheduled to close during the entire construction period, but will now be closed in portions temporarily during construction, Keener said.
Ram also built a new sidewalk on the west side of Church Street earlier this fall for pedestrian traffic during construction.