Chapel Hill downtown building boom creating traffic, parking headaches for small businesses

Sean Coffey Image
Thursday, February 29, 2024
Chapel Hill boom creating headaches for small business owners
The building boom in downtown Chapel Hill is having some unintended consequences for small businesses near Franklin Street.

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WTVD) -- The building boom in downtown Chapel Hill is having some unintended consequences for small businesses near Franklin Street.

Several business owners located near what the town calls the "Innovation District" -- an area of rapid construction off Rosemary Street -- say construction and street closures have led to traffic and parking headaches.

"It's a problem that we deal with with every day," said Holly Dedmond, manager of Chapel Hill Sportswear. "We just hope that local people will continue to come out and support the small businesses."

Dedmond says she's optimistic about the town's growth but knows it won't be easy navigating the development process.

"I think we're excited about where the future of Franklin Street and Chapel Hill," she said. "We just got to get there."

Officials say it's part of a broader shift on Franklin Street. More options on-campus for UNC students have cut into student foot traffic, sparking a push for a year-round economic model that's less dependent on those students for success.

"The ecosystem is changing," said Jeri Lynn Schulke, Executive Director of the Downtown Chapel Hill Partnership. "So even though developments long-term are shifting things, I think things are already shifting."

Coupled with population growth, that has meant more chain retail downtown and new developments like the Life Sciences building in the heart of the Innovation District.

Schulke admits it hasn't been easy for everyone.

"Any time anybody goes through change it's hard," said Schulke. "It's not easy. It's going to be a difficult couple of years between now and our, you know, the goal being realized. But I think there's a vision that's being formulated."

That's a vision business owners say needs to include more protections for them.

"Leadership needs to prioritize safety downtown," said Robert Poitras, owner of Carolina Brewery. "We can do all this, but if we're not making our streets safe all the time, that's going to be a mess."

Poitras says Franklin Street is too important to not get the growth right.

"Chapel Hill is the doorstep of the University, it's our impression," he said. "When you come to Chapel Hill, you're probably coming because of the university. And Franklin Street represents that image. So it's time to take it to the next level."

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