By Tammy Grubb, via newsobserver.com
CHAPEL HILL — The community will meet at the plaza Friday for the grand opening of 140 West Franklin Street.
The $55-million commercial and residential development was proposed in 2008, and construction started in January 2011.
Town and development officials hope the project’s 26,000-square-foot plaza will be an entertainment destination and a gathering place. They hope the project itself will bridge the town’s distinctive East and West business districts.
The modern, brick-and-glass condominiums, retail and restaurants stand on what used to be Town Parking Lot No. 5. Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt said the project – a public-private partnership – realizes a town vision for environmentally sound development, social equity and affordable housing.
“We proved that through the worst economic times that our country has faced in generations that we could be true to a vision – a principal vision – for how we want our community to be and how we want our community to face the challenges of the future. I think we got it right,” he said.
For Peter Cummings, chairman of developer Ram Realty Services, the project fulfills the company’s tagline – people making places. “That’s how we want to be known, and occasionally, we have opportunities to really make a place, to have a positive impact beyond our own boundaries,” he said.
Living and working
• An underground garage doubles the previous parking, with 161 public spaces (the town paid $6.7 million) and 176 residential spaces.
The building is four stories near the street and rises to eight at the center. It has 26,000 square feet of ground-floor commercial space.
• At least 105 of the 140 “plaza homes” have been sold. Thirty-plus floor plans are priced from the mid-$300,000s to $1.5 million for a penthouse with a private terrace. Community Home Trust, a local affordable housing nonprofit, has bought 18 homes and will sell them for up to $120,000 to first-time homebuyers making less than 80 percent of the area median income. That’s $38,500 for a single person and $44,000 for a two-person household.
• At least two homes are listed for rent at www.chapelhillrent.com.
• Lime Fresh Mexican Grill is open, and Gigi’s Cupcakes and the Eye Care Center are coming. Kendria Sweet, with Sweet Tea Consulting, said Ram has been picky about the businesses it courts, but negotiations are ongoing. She wouldn’t name any prospects.
• The town will lease the land to Ram at $1 annually for 99 years. By the fifth year, Ram expects to generate $1.06 million annually for the town in parking, sales tax and property tax revenues.
• The building is insulated, concrete construction, with heat- and sound-reducing windows, Energy Star appliances, low-VOC paints, sustainable flooring and water conservation features.
• Residents include downsizing Chapel Hill residents, UNC professors and hospital employees. There are even a few Duke employees.
• Homes have tile and hardwood flooring, custom stone countertops, gas stoves, luxury showers and garden tubs, floor-to-ceiling windows and balconies.
• Residents get concierge services, a fitness center and a top-floor clubroom with two large terraces, a business center, fireplace, kitchen and big-screen TV.
• Developer Ram Realty paid $624,000 for two works of art: “Tar Heel Blues,” by artist Gordon Huether, hangs at the Rosemary Street entrance. “Exhale,” a stainless steel perforated metal skin from landscape artist Mikyoung Kim, breathes light and fog. A computerized weather station adjusts the amount by reading the wind velocity.
• Regional artwork in the hallways.
• Ram also is paying $200,000 for plaza performances, including Wednesdays at lunch and on Friday evenings. A performance schedule is coming soon.