The proposed redevelopment of University Place would bring new business and create jobs
University Place Mall on South Estes Drive may soon be transformed into a pedestrianized and walkable downtown.
On May 19, Chapel Hill City Council will hold another public hearing regarding the redevelopment proposal, with a tentative vote date of June 9.
The plaintiff, Ram Realty Advisors, purchased the 43-acre property in 2018. Part of the first phase of the project – which included the creation of two new exterior-facing storefronts adjacent to Bartaco and the renovation of the space outside Hawkers – was completed last year.
Now Ram Realty Advisors is asking the council to amend its special use permit so that it can begin construction and complete the first phase, which would take around 15 to 18 months.
Make the mall more pedestrian-oriented
The proposal aims to convert a large part of the interior space of the shopping center into exterior-facing windows and will be carried out in three phases. In the first phase, around 110,000 Square feet – just over a quarter of the property – of existing indoor commercial space will be demolished, including the former Southern Seasons location, said Ashley Saulpaugh, regional director of Carolinas investments for Ram Realty Advisors.
Approximately 50,000 square feet of new retail space will be reconstructed, which will surround a half-acre green space in the center of the mall.
“The ultimate goal is to dismantle the mall and shut down the interior of the mall, as it is no longer a rental space and is expensive to operate,” Saulpaugh said. “He’s dying for lack of a better word.”
Saulpaugh said the pandemic had exacerbated the decrease in foot traffic inside the mall, and he said he didn’t think it would come back. Because of this, existing tenants are leaving and there is no interest from new retailers, he said.
As people rely more on e-commerce, the survival of in-person retailing hinges on being “experiential” for customers, Saulpaugh said. By creating exterior-facing stores surrounding a pedestrian and passable green space, he said this would naturally result in more foot traffic to the mall.
Saulpaugh said the Northside Mall in Raleigh – which once looked like University Place – has undergone a similar redevelopment process that “turned it upside down” and turned it into an exterior-facing plaza.
Achieve climate goals
The walkable green space will host regular programming events such as fitness classes. 20,000 square feet will be used for entertainment and concert purposes. Chapel Hill Farmers Market, which is currently being held in the parking lot of the shopping center, would also be moved to the green space.
Melissa McCullough, a member of the Chapel Hill Planning Commission, said she thinks the proposal is a good start to revitalizing a “dead” mall. McCullough said creating a green space for pedestrians is not only a revenue generator for surrounding businesses, but also helps the city meet its climate and revenue goals.
“In order for us to meet our greenhouse gas targets, we need to make more efficient use of land per person,” said McCullough.
The project will also add 250 trees to the property.
More apartments, business spaces and hotels
The first phase will also include the construction of 250 multi-family apartments in the parking lot adjacent to the Silverspot cinema. It is proposed that 15% of these apartments be designated as affordable for a person earning 80% of the average median income.
Saulpaugh said there was pent-up demand for more multi-family apartments in Chapel Hill, especially from people who work in Chapel Hill but have to travel to work from out of town. This is the case with many residents of the Elliott Apartments, which Ram Realty acquired in 2016, he said.
The mall’s current special use permit only allows buildings up to three stories high and in order to build the apartments, Ram Realty is asking to amend the permit to allow five story buildings.
Office space and hotel planned for the second and third phases of the redevelopment would also likely be in the five story range, Saulpaugh said.
In addition, retail incubator suites for about eight start-ups will be built in the first phase, 20% of which will be dedicated to business owners from marginalized communities, Saulpaugh said.
“One of the biggest obstacles to a start-up retail business is building a space,” he said. “It typically costs several 100,000 dollars to build a space, which eliminates the upfront costs and gives them the ability to get in there at little or no cost, and start a new business.
Chapel Hill economic development officer Dwight Bassett said the redevelopment plan is expected to create around 250 to 300 construction jobs, as well as 275 permanent jobs. Orange County and Chapel Hill’s tax base could increase by $ 1.2 million per year.
If council decides to vote on the special use permit amendment in June and then approves it, Saulpaugh said construction would begin early next year, which would put the groundbreaking in the spring of 2023.
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