By Tyson Leonhardt
Carrboro Commons Copy Editor/Staff Writer
Main Street Properties spokeswoman Laura Van Sant has set more groundbreaking dates than she can remember.
“I’ve given so many dates out and been wrong on all of them,” Van Sant said, “but we would like to be underway very soon, hopefully in a matter of weeks, but certainly no more than a month.”
The development project, steered by Main Street Properties, will be implemented in two phases, Van Sant said.
The initial phase focuses on the construction of what will be Carrboro’s first hotel, a 144-room Hampton Inn, and a 5-story parking garage. The second phase of the project will aim to renovate the existing retail space and surrounding land in an effort to attract new businesses.
But Main Street Properties is already accepting leasing applications for the existing retail space, and Fleet Feet Sports Carrboro, currently housed in Carr Mill Mall, is already in the process of moving to the 300 E. Main Street location.
Van Sant said several other retailers interested in leasing building space have contacted her, but said all other leasing contracts are in preliminary stages.
Businesses currently located at the 300 East Main Street development site, including Carrboro staples Cat’s Cradle, Amante Gourmet Pizza and The ArtsCenter, should not be adversely affected by the construction, Van Sant said.
Jay Miller, interim executive director of The ArtsCenter, said he has worked closely with Van Sant and doesn’t anticipate any negative side effects.
“I know there’s been some controversy about the development, but I think more mixed-use development in downtown Carrboro will ultimately be a good thing,” he said.
Miller said the development will offer visitors greater parking options and a nearby place to stay the night, which he thinks could spur business for The ArtsCenter.
“We just want everyone to know we’ll be there regardless of what’s going on around us. The ArtsCenter is doing really good right now.”
Van Sant said the unfavorable economic atmosphere of the past few years, coupled with property owners’ concerns and town regulations on mixed-use development, are responsible for the multiyear delay.
“We’ve been at this for a long time. We first obtained the conditional use permit from the Board of Aldermen in September 2008, and two weeks later Lehman Brothers went under and made it virtually impossible to get a loan on anything,” she said.
Recent financial jitters and complaints from nearby residents about the impact the construction and development could have on their properties have further delayed the process, Van Sant said.
Most recently, Boyd-Street Resident Ricardo Palao raised objections at the Sept. 6 Board of Aldermen meeting about a road-widening process needed for the development that would encroach on his property.
But Van Sant said Main Street Properties has worked hard to address neighboring property owners’ concerns, including redeveloping the road widening to accommodate Palao’s objections. The developer spokeswoman said she’s confident construction will move forward in coming weeks.
“We’re waiting to get the bank documents finalized and we’re still working on a final design for Boyd Street,” she said, “but those are the only hurdles left.”
Carrboro Board of Aldermen member Sammy Slade said although the development process has been a bumpy ride, he thinks 300 East Main Street will breathe fresh air into Carrboro’s business sector.
“The location of the new mixed-use development makes sense,” Slade said. “It’s an area where a lot of people live and work, and should help encourage people to cut down on driving and not use their cars too much.”
Former Carrboro Alderman Braxton Foushee, who is running to regain a spot on the board this November, agrees the development could boost the town’s tax base and drive economic growth.
“I think [the development] will bring some new jobs and much-needed capital to Carrboro,” Foushee said. “It’s definitely going to change the whole face of Main Street.”