Cobblestone street proving bumpy for hotel
A one-of-a-kind cobblestone street has become a bit of a snag for developers and city officials eager to see the former Mutual Community Savings Bank building on East Chapel Hill Street turned into a boutique hotel.
The former bank building abuts Holland Street, a north-south link between East Chapel Hill and West Morgan streets for pedestrians, bicyclists and even cars that passes behind the Durham Armory.
Plans call for the future Holland Hotel – a 54-unit project the city and county have backed with the pledge of $1.2 million in business incentives – to have new entrances and outdoor dining space on part of the existing right of way.
But when city/county planners relayed to the City Council a request for the closure of the relevant section of right of way, objections quickly surfaced from other businesses and downtown advocates.
Administrators backpedaled, canceling an Oct. 7 council hearing and instead scheduling a public workshop on what to do with the street that occurred Tuesday evening.
About 40 people turned out, and among other things told city/county planners they’d like to see the “Holland Street Mall’s” cobblestones and the mature trees that shade it retained.
“This alley is a very quirky and wonderful and magical space,” said Annette deFerrari, a visual artist who teaches at the Durham Arts Council. “It feels very particular to Durham to me.”
Other participants voiced a desire to see more activity on Holland, spicing it up with street musicians and food carts. And they said they’d like to see it better taken-care of.
But there were also hints of what city/county planner Sara Young termed “an identity crisis, as some in attendance regarded Holland as a street and others, like deFerrari, saw it more as an alley.
They nonetheless urged officials to come up with an “intentional” strategy for the space, rather than addressing it piecemeal.
It was not clear, at the workshop’s conclusion, how the suggestions offered will affect the hotel project.
The incentive package the City Council approved last year gave developers an April 30 deadline for having the hotel ready for occupancy if they wish to begin claiming the city’s half of the deal.
Office of Economic and Workforce Development Director Kevin Dick said a number of the suggestions seemed to him “consistent with the visions or types of visions the developers had for the immediate area.”
People “just wanted it to be woven well into the urban design fabric of downtown,” he said.
Planners said they’ve also been talking to City Attorney Patrick Baker’s staff about whether there are other options that don’t necessarily require the council to give up the right of way.
But officials present deflected questions about the timetable for moving ahead to the developers. Answers from that quarter weren’t immediately forthcoming.
“We’ll give it some thought,” said Brad Wiese, president of Maverick Partners, one of the firms involved in the project. “We’re going to take this [advice] all into account.”