Wall Street of the mind

The folks with J&D Tree Pros out of Apex have begun cranking up their chain saws and taking down the trees and shrubs at Municipal Lot 5. Half the property has been cordoned off with yellow tape, sort of like a crime scene, to set it off from the other half, where parking is still allowed while the canopy comes down.

By Jan. 5 the other half of the lot will probably be taped off as the official groundbreaking – or in this case, asphalt-breaking – for the 140 West Franklin project takes place.

The folks at WUNC-FM have begun re-running an ad for Ram Development – the one that refers to 140 West Franklin “rising in downtown Chapel Hill.” And ads are running in The News & Observer suggesting that time is running out on getting a bargain condo before the prices, like the structure, rise.

The town has begun promoting a patchwork of parking alternatives to replace the 103 spaces that will be lost while work on the project progresses.

Residents who live on the fringes of the downtown project can brace themselves for the occasional dynamite blast as the construction company excavates the site.

Yes, the eight-story, $40-million-to-$75-million (the cost depends on which news source you use) condo-retail-parking project to be built by John Moriarty and Associates construction company of Winchester, Mass., seems to have progressed beyond rumor in a tangible way – not just as a pitch from the Ram salespeople or the wishful thinking of the Town Council members who brought this upon us.

In the next few weeks we’ll hear lots of talk about hopes for downtown vitality and breaking down the wall between East Franklin Street and West Franklin Street, something that seems to have existed in the mind of Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt. I never saw any wall during the many times I conveniently parked there.

Maybe we’ll also hear from RAM about exactly how many condos it has sold – references to half the 140 condos being sold keep cropping up every time a story is written about the project, but that figure was being used even several years ago and connoted wishful thinking more than actual sales. The official website reports only 40 condos sold. You’d think an organization as polished as Ram would spend a few bucks on a press officer to keep the website updated if more have sold, maybe even issue a news release that has up-to-the-minute information.

There still is no word on any retail occupants, which would be a true sign that the project has a chance of success.

I hope the town doesn’t end up with a building full of condos that no one wants– to buy, such as happened in downtown Raleigh to a couple of high-rise projects. Then our mayor will truly have a wall between the two Franklin streets.
–Don Evans

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  1. Steve

     /  December 16, 2010

    I sure hope somebody is watching … the earth at this site is contaminated and when excavated should be taken to remediation before being disposed of.


    Want to bet somebody will conveniently “forget” to comply with environmental regulations, and dump this contaminated earth at the illegal landfill adjacent to University Lake?

  2. Nancy Oates

     /  December 16, 2010

    The report estimates 13,000 TONS of contaminated soil on the site. Perhaps Mayor Kleinschmidt should rent a bubble suit for the groundbreaking Jan. 5. And the Town Council could hire a consultant (no one local, in keeping with their history) to determine where to dump the dirty dirt.

  3. John Kramer

     /  December 16, 2010

    Saving the planet is such a good business!

    And I for one would pay good money to see the mayor in a hazmat suit, good one!

  4. It’s interesting to read in Weds’ CH News a quote about uniting East and West Franklin attributed to “Jon Keener, Ram development manager” and then have you use to attack Kleinschmidt. Strange.

    And I wonder if you walk downtown. There’s definitely a gap separating the two ends of Franklin St. Not technically a “wall”, I admit, but it might as well be.

  5. Terri Buckner

     /  December 17, 2010

    For as long as I’ve lived in Chapel Hill (over 30 years), there has been some kind of invisible boundary. I don’t think it’s because of lot 5 though. In the old days, there was a Belk’s in that area and a BellSouth building. There were always a lot of young men from town (not the university) hanging out in the parking lot that served those two buildings. When my friends and I walked from downtown to Pyewacket, it felt like leaving the university area for the real part of town. I don’t think the building at lot 5 is going to change that feeling of transition.

    As for the underground fuel tanks from the gas station that used to be on that lot, I believe EPA guidelines for disposing of toxic waste will have to be followed and reported on. The need for that cleanup has been known since before the contract was signed. As I recall the cost of the cleanup will be born by the town.

  6. Anita Badrock

     /  December 20, 2010

    There are 18 affordable units in this development. Not sure if they are being counted as “sold.”

  7. Don Evans

     /  December 20, 2010


    Good point. I’ve e-mailed the folks at 140 West Franklin and asked that very question. We’ll see how long it takes them to get back with the answer.

  8. Don Evans

     /  December 20, 2010

    Got the following message from Molly Hogan Barnes, sales coordinator with 140 West Franklin:

    “Thanks so much for your inquiry. There are 18 homes designated for affordable housing. We have sold 50 market rate homes. This figure does not include the 18 affordables. Stay tuned for more sales and retail announcements.”

    But that’s not 70, is it? Are the folks at Ram just math-challenged?

  9. Steve

     /  December 20, 2010

    Good question. They weren’t math-challenged when they connived Chapel Hill taxpayers to cough up $7,500,000 to rent a few parking spaces.