Orange County

Will Chapel Hill find its next thrill in ‘Blue Hill’?

The story was updated Saturday, April 26, 2017, to reflect new information.

A group of commercial developers is invested in making the newly named Blue Hill District a place where people work, live and play.

Chapel Hill’s former Ephesus-Fordham district on the northeastern edge of town got a new start this week at a launch party in the Eastgate Crossing shopping center.

The Blue Hill District covers 180 acres targeted for redevelopment and reinvestment, from South Elliott Road and East Franklin Street, to Fordham Boulevard and Ephesus Church Road.

It was time to make the area a destination and not just an intersection, said Sherry Alte-Cook, with Europa Center owner Avison Young. The new name reflects its location in Chapel Hill and UNC’s Carolina blue hue.

“The desire was to become a thriving, walkable district with an urban character attractive to younger generations that work and live in the Chapel Hill area,” Alte-Cook said.

Avison Young and four other developers and investors – Village Plaza’s Regency Centers, Eastgate Crossing’s Federal Realty, Elliott Square’s Ram Development and Quality Inn’s Atma Hotel Group – started planning the reinvention after the town adopted a form-based code to encourage and guide the district’s redevelopment in 2014.

Each investor put in over $4,000 to hire an advertising agency and rebrand the district, said Dwight Bassett, the town’s economic development director.

UPDATE: Information obtained through the town’s council email archives later showed that the town also spent $24,100 from its Economic Development Office budget in 2014 to hire the Glyph Interface advertising agency to create a marketing campaign.

Liaison Design of Raleigh will lead the marketing campaign and plans more events and promotions over time. A new website – – features an interactive map to help residents and visitors navigate the district’s options.

Blue Hill District has attracted over $125 million in new development in three years, with more to come, said Gary Hill, with Avison Young. The district now offers more than 35 retail shops, 20 restaurants, businesses and apartments, said Jay Kanik, with Village Plaza owner Regency Centers.

The town could approve more housing – Hillstone Chapel Hill and Fordham Apartments – later this year, while Elliott Square – formerly South Village Plaza – is set for renovations and a new building in the future.

Regency Centers also plans to remodel part of Village Plaza’s Whole Foods-anchored shopping center, which has lost several smaller tenants in recent years, Kanik said. Those losses can cause “a lot of heartache and grief,” he said, but the company also has a duty to its investors and to help other tenants thrive.

The district “is going to bring a lot more of this kind of entertainment lifestyle and activity,” Kanik said. “The PTA Thrift Shop, the Print Shop and the old dry cleaner that was there for generations, it’s all legacy stuff and there’s a time and place for that, but with this evolution there’s going to be a lot more energy.”

Blue Hill District’s latest addition — Babalu Tapas and Tacos — will open with a ribbon-cutting Monday in Eastgate Crossing. Babalu, named after Ricky Ricardo’s song on “I Love Lucy,” already is partnering with local charities and planning to do more for local families, said Stan Stout, chief operating officer for Babalu’s parent company Eat Here Brands.

“We’re very, very excited at the opening of Babalu and all the wonderful energy that’s going on over on this side of town,” Mayor Pam Hemminger said at Tuesday’s launch party. “I live over on this side of town, and it’s fun to know that we have all these wonderful new options here.”

Tammy Grubb: 919-829-8926, @TammyGrubb