Town introduces Franklin Street’s new gathering spot

Apr. 10, 2013 @ 06:01 PM

Some thought of it as a stream that flowed from the street into the plaza, bringing people along with it.

One man said it reminded him of the bones of a prehistoric creature that had died on the spot, and from another angle it looked like an armadillo.

The new outdoor sculpture called “Exhale,” is nearly finished, and it was on display Wednesday during an announcement of a special event to introduce the public to a new space at 140 West Franklin Street called The Plaza.

The Plaza is an open space at the corner of West Franklin and Church streets, and Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt said it will be a wonderful spot for people to meet. Already a restaurant called Lime Fresh Mexican Grill has opened overlooking the plaza, and people chatted while eating lunch and drinking a beer as people gathered for the announcement.

It’s come a long way from when the block was a parking lot, and people argued over whether they could park there, Kleinschmidt said.

Now the corner is occupied by an underground parking deck and an eight-story building with condominiums that look out over Chapel Hill. On the ground floor, restaurants and shops will be opening soon.

Construction crews are still finishing the inside of the buildings, and the lighting and misting feature of the sculpture aren’t quite ready for public display, but officials are planning a big celebration with music, lighting and misting in the plaza at 7 p.m. April 26.

Kleinschmidt recalled that when he was running for Town Council in 2001, the community was tired of the gap between East and West Franklin Street. East Franklin Street was for the young and the hip, and West Franklin Street seemed to be the area where a more sophisticated crowd tended to congregate.

Working with the developer, Ram Realty Services, the community and the developer came up with a plan to build something that would provide the link between the two downtowns, he said.

“With our development partners, Ram, our community, this, it happened!” Kleinschmidt said. “Now it’s been a long 13 years, quite a long 13 years since that election in 2001, but we proved that through the worst economic times our country has faced in generations, we could be true to a vision and how we wanted our community to face the challenges of the future,” Kleinschmidt said.

The stainless steel sculpture by Mikyoung Kim curves along the lines of the concrete plaza, and when it is operational, computer programmed LED lighting and fog will roll along the length of the sculpture.

“The artist has done an inspired job of creating a point of focus,” said Peter Cummings, chairman of Ram Realty Services.

The art creates a space where people will want to congregate, Cummings said.

“We have the opportunity to make a place to have a positive impact beyond our own boundaries,” he said.