Sunday, May 29, 2016

Whither Chapel Hill?

I don't necessarily make it to uptown Chapel Hill and Carrboro every week, so on those occasions that I make it to the 10 am Sunday morning AA meeting I like, I wend my way home by driving through town, even though I could use the bypass. I like in particular keeping track of the major construction projects, so that there impression on me will be gradual, instead of driving up there one day and being like "WTF, there's a 6-story building now."

In principle, I am all for developing upwards and increased density. It should bring more and better jobs, more urban intensity. It is kind of working. The other day I learned that both Google and Tibco have development teams located in the building which until recently housed Aveda, across from the University Square redevelopment. Those are good jobs to have downtown.

However, all this construction of new buildings is also just pushing up rents and driving out the kind of businesses that have historically given Chapel Hill-Carrboro character and made it an interesting place to be. Nice Price books is gone. Just today I saw a relatively newly vacant space on Main Street in Carrboro, where photographer Jesse Kalisher had his space (no big loss, really. His work wasn't that interesting, he was reputed to be an egotist). I fear in particular the day when the Bookshop on Franklin Street gets pushed out. That place is the birthplace of my soul.

So I'm seeing lots of retail vacancies already up on Franklin Street. In addition to the empty holes where restaurants should be down near us. This suggests that retail space is being overpriced in generally, and that more and more expensive retail space isn't going to do anybody any good.

It will need to be fancy eateries. But those are coming and going pretty quickly too.

Here are three thoughts

  1. The rarefication of Chapel Hill proceeds apace. The more metrosexual and cosmopolitan it becomes, the more it loses its soul and becomes kind of insufferable.
  2. The problem of excess retail space is secularly connected to the rise of Amazon. One local merchant, a jeweller, said to me not long ago that he was sanguine on the prospects for retail in general in America.
  3. Eventually the price of retail space may have to drop and be subsidized by office and residential tenants.

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