CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WNCN) – Shopkeepers and customers at historic buildings by the University of North Carolina hope the school will not demolish the century-old structures.
The Board of Trustees recently approved a Campus Master Plan which “addresses the role of all University landholdings over the next 10-20 years.” One recommendation includes tearing down several businesses on East Franklin Street next to University United Methodist Church, including Carolina Coffee Shop.
The cafe opened in 1922 and promotes itself as Chapel Hill’s oldest original restaurant. It holds the title as the oldest restaurant in the state to continue operations in the same place and under the name.
Carolina Coffee Shop occupies space in one of several buildings on three university-owned lots which are designated for demolition under a Campus Master Plan proposal. Other storefronts in the same building are Blue Spoon Microcreamery, bevello boutique, and offices for the UNC Graduate Student Center and UNC-Chapel Hill Government Relations.
Ashley Moore of bevello said the building is due for renovations but she hopes the original walls will still be standing as the project progresses.
“These buildings hold so much character and so much history that it’s kind of a shame to get rid of them,” Moore said.
“Our building, for example, housed the original university merch store, which I think is just awesome. Why would you want to tear this down? I think it really enriches the culture around here,” she said.
“It’s no secret that these buildings out here could use a little bit of love and TLC (tender loving care) and a little bit of sprucing up, but I don’t think the answer is to rebuild anything.”
Another nearby building, Franklin Centre, is home to businesses including Salon 135, Cosmic Cantina, and Johnny T-Shirt. Plans call for the demolition of that two-story building, so the university could construct new four- or five-story buildings which would include office and commercial space.
Moore said she supports adding floors to the existing buildings, though there could be some issues with structural integrity.
Stephanie Berrier, the university’s communications manager for Facilities Services and Real Estate, said the Campus Master Plan identifies possible opportunities for growth and renovation.
“It is not a building plan,” Berrier said. “We would like to emphasize that there are no definitive plans for Porthole Alley at this time.”
The area is known as Porthole Alley because of the nearby Porthole Building, which is home to the Carolina Performing Arts administrative offices.
Greg Merklein, the associate vice chancellor for real estate operations, issued a written statement to the media:
As part of the recently approved Campus Master Plan, the University envisions along East Franklin Street a more vibrant Porthole Alley that will help create a gateway to the University, house a new UNC Visitors Center and also support retail activities along this commercial area. Plans for Porthole Alley are in early exploratory stages and will involve working closely with the Town of Chapel Hill and our building tenants in a collaborative process.
Moore said she and other bevello staff did not hear of the Campus Master Plan until more than a month after its approval. She is pleased the university announced it will include businesses in the development discussions.
“I feel like they could just do it and not ask anybody or see how to feel about it,” Moore said.
“I hope that the university continues to communicate with the community about this. It’s really nice that they’re at least letting us in at all because they could come in and tear it down and say ‘Who cares?’ So it’s nice that they’re at least keeping us in the loop, even though I hope they don’t take any future action to tear it down.”
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