140 West brings new life to old lot

Apr. 26, 2013 @ 09:59 PM

The 140 West Franklin Street officially opened Friday to speeches, music and the much-anticipated activation of “Exhale,” the art sculpture that dominates the $55 million mixed-use project’s public plaza.

The 200-plus people who gathered on the plaza watched in amazement as smoke began to emanate from the stainless steel sculpture by Mikyoung Kim, which came to life with lights as dancers from the Studio A DanceArts maneuvered around and over it.
Built on the site of a town-owned parking lot by Ram Realty Services, 140 West is seen as a transformative project for West Franklin Street and a bridge to neighboring East Franklin Street, which has been in recent years the more vibrant of the two.

The project adds 140 condominiums, including 18 affordable units controlled by the Community Home Trust and retail and office space.

It also adds 337 parking spaces – 161 of which are public spaces controlled by the town – to the downtown parking stock.

“It’s my hope that as the stores fill out, as the trees green up, as the plans the town has put together for programming unfold, it’s my hope that you will embrace this place and accept it as the gift it’s intended to be from the Ram team and from the town of Chapel Hill,” said Peter Cummings, Ram’s chairman.  

Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt said that when he moved to Chapel Hill in 1988, the site on which 140 West sits was a gravel parking lot.

Kleinschmidt said he knew even as a freshman that the parking lot was an opportunity to enhance downtown.

“Here on what was a parking lot is now a reflection of our community’s interest in creating a more diverse economic climate for our downtown and putting people living on this old parking lot,” Kleinschmidt said.

A restaurant called Lime Fresh Mexican Grill has already opened, overlooking the plaza, and town leaders said there are already long lines of people waiting to get in.

In the coming months, the Eye Care Center now across the street at University Square will move into space nearby and Gigi’s Cupcakes is also scheduled to open.

Ivy Greaner, Ram’s chief operating officer, said Old Chicago, a restaurant specializing in homemade pizza and craft beer, just signed to occupy 6,800 square feet of retail space.

Brian Litchfield, the town’s interim transit director, said his family will be frequent visitors to 140 West.

“This is a great space,” Litchfield said.

Town Councilman Jim Ward was the lone dissenting vote when the council gave the go ahead to get the ball rolling on the project.

He said Friday that he was concerned that the project Ram brought before the council was different than the one the company initially proposed.

But Ward said he is pleased with the final project.

“I think this is very close to what we were hoping it would be,” Ward said.

Gina Stone said she thought the project was too big for downtown and the condos over-priced, but was impressed by the public plaza.

“It depends on what you like,” Stone said. “I’ve been in Chapel Hill for 20 years and it’s changed a lot.”