Last week came the news that, in light of the City Council's approval of the re-zoning request for the old Kroger shopping center across the street from the one-time South Square Mall, the mixed-use development plans for the project are now moving along at a brisk clip.
Besides Charlotte-based Hawthorne, who's been a part of this from day one, it's been revealed that financial backing comes from a joint venture of Morgan Stanley's Real Estate Fund (which has been a major player in property investing since the S&L crisis of the late 1980s) and Duke Energy. The latter, of course, doubtlessly seeing a good opportunity to leverage mixed-use investment a stone's through from their founding family's namesake university. (Who ever said you couldn't do well by doing good?)
According to the Herald-Sun, the project is now slated to encompass 115,000 sq. ft. of retail and 300 luxury apartments. Mid-2009 is the estimated completion date.
Now, we've known for some time that Sitar India Palace would be the only remaining business after the redevelopment's completion. But the H-S and N&O articles note, oh-so-casually, the development team's interest in bringing a 'specialty grocery store' to the area.
And who might they mean by that? Let's take a look at a web survey that was sent to the Inter-Neighborhood Council list last week by the development team. The survey asks some interesting questions:
- What kind of retail do you want to see -- giving as examples 'specialty grocer' and bookstore -- and asks for any specific retailer names you might want in the plaza.
- How often would you shop these retailers, and the kicker:
- "Some retailers believe Chapel Hill and Durham comprise one market that can be served by a single store in Chapel Hill. How often would you visit these same retailers if they were only located in Chapel Hill?"
Let's see... retailers whom shoppers might demand in central Durham that happen to already have a store in Chapel Hill. Well, on the specialty grocer side, that describes an extremely small subset of stores -- most notably Trader Joe's, whose northern Chapel Hill location was clearly hoped to draw from affluent South Durham as well as the Tar Heel Town. Earth Fare and Fresh Market could also fit that category, though the former has shuttered its CH location, which is actually undergoing a transformation into a TJ's.
On the bookstore side, while Durham's got popular specialty and locally-owned bookstores like The Book Exchange, The Regulator, and BookDabbler, one could also imagine Borders fitting that category, given that there's no national big-box bookseller any further than one mile north of I-40. (Northgate's owners reportedly tried hard to land a Borders for the mall at the early phase of their renovations -- a retail play made before, one assumes, they partnered with The Regulator in urging Duke to keep Central Campus from harming local businesses by bringing in a national-chain bookstore....)
Anyway, this does highlight one of the challenges for the good folks working on the University Marketplace project: how to take advantage of the South Square-area demographics, which from a major retailer perspective are considered "desirable," in a world where retailers are already trying to bridge the Durham and CH retail markets at strategic sites like Southpoint, Patterson Place, and New Hope Commons.
The rub, of course, is that there are plenty of shoppers in the central and northern reaches of the Bull City who'd like to see these sort of retail options in closer proximity. South Square isn't too bad a place to reach, but many folks aren't interested in fighting the 15-501 traffic all the way to South Durham or especially Chapel Hill on a regular basis.
In any case, make your feelings known by filling out the survey and voting with your mouse-clicks.