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December 2008

My action list for the upcoming year

It's been a pretty wild year for the Thorp family. I moved my office downstairs in South Building and started wearing NC lapel pins. John and Emma got used to seeing their picture in the newspaper and dad playing the guitar on the Internet. We left Carrboro and moved to Chapel Hill. And Mrs. Thorp brought new meaning to the phrase "jump around."

Even with all the changes, though, one thing has stayed the same, and that's our commitment to this community and our desire to see us succeed -- together. As the year comes to a close, I've been thinking a lot about the big issues facing both the university and the Chapel Hill and Carrboro communities in 2009. I've come up with the following list of nine areas in which the university will be active in bringing positive change to the community.

1. Fill the empty storefronts on Franklin Street.

Chapel Hill is bigger than just Franklin Street, but it is the town's signature locale and the university's front door. We have development plans of our own for Franklin Street, through the UNC-Chapel Hill Foundation. We also participate in the Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership, the non-profit group with representation from town, gown and businesses that encourages revitalization by discussing and offering thoughtful solutions to difficult problems, such as homelessness, panhandling and absentee property owners.

I agree with Trustee Chair Roger Perry's recent observations about the dilemma that non-local downtown property owners pose to the town when they allow vacant storefronts to sit empty. We need to continue talking as a community about how to get that message to resonate with those owners.

2. Develop a plan for University Square/Granville Towers that will help revitalize Franklin Street.

Carolina will become a major investor in Franklin Street with the UNC-Chapel Hill Foundation's planned purchase of University Square and Granville Towers by next summer. We have started conversations about how best to use this 12-acre site.

The possibilities -- including more parking, retail or service businesses -- could make a huge difference downtown and complement and enhance the planned housing development across West Franklin Street in the current parking lot. While we devise what to do with the property with community input, the foundation will continue to pay property taxes that support local governments and schools.

3. Reach agreement on a new zone and development agreement for Carolina North.

I'm very pleased at the progress in the joint meetings of some members of our Board of Trustees and the Chapel Hill Town Council this year to discuss how to proceed with the development of the Carolina North campus. The discussions have been guided by David Owens of the School of Government, an expert on development agreements, and supported by the behind-the-scenes cooperation of a working group of university and town staff members.

We have set a goal of reaching an agreement on the zone and the development plan by June 2009, and we're on track to meet that goal. In the meantime, I will be working with the faculty, staff and the community to build a vision for Carolina North that will benefit all of the stakeholders.

4. Advance plans for Carolina Commons.

In Carrboro, we have proposed to the town an exciting new plan to address the shortage of attainable housing near campus for our faculty and staff. This new neighborhood, on a 63-acre tract near the heart of Carrboro, will enable many faculty and staff to live in the community where they work. We intend to offer faculty and staff these single-family town homes and condominium homes at below-market rates. We also plan to make Carolina Commons as green as we can by designing the homes and landscaping to be environmentally sustainable.

5. Make progress on building a new homeless shelter.

This effort is aided by the $1 long-term lease we have offered to the Town of Chapel Hill. The approximately 1.5-acre site is part of the former Duke Energy property on Martin Luther King Boulevard, right beside United Church of Chapel Hill, one of the founding members of the Inter-Faith Council for Social Service. The new shelter is planned to be open by 2011.

6. Continue our commitment to sustainability.

We are making great progress on sustainability on campus and will devote additional time and resources this year to improve the area's carbon footprint by pursuing the project to turn methane gas from the Orange County landfill into electricity.

7. Keep Halloween smaller and celebrate a national basketball championship (or two) on Franklin Street. I'm proud of the way the students, university and town worked together on Halloween -- a great example of what we can do when we talk to each other and start in time. If things work out for the Tar Heels in early April, we can look forward to another safe and exciting night at the center of the Carolina universe.

8. Begin the dialogue about the possibility of a new airport near Chapel Hill.

Although some worry that the process for determining whether a new airport should be constructed near Chapel Hill has already finished, we feel that the process is just beginning. We recently replied to questions from Orange County, and we look forward to the upcoming discussions.

9. Strengthen Carolina's commitment to the place we call home and encourage the community that surrounds us to reciprocate. We need each other, never more so than in the uncertain times we will face in the new year. By working together on this list, we will accomplish great things for our mutual benefit.

 

Holden Thorp is chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Readers can contact him at holden_thorp@unc.edu.





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