♫ Purple Bowl, Purple Bowl ♫

When we last visited the Purple Bowl predicament, the beloved acai restaurant on Franklin Street was spearheading an email campaign to Chapel Hill Town Council to save themselves from a potential redevelopment. Here are some updates:

We still believe this is a problem that Chapel Hill needs to solve

Everyone loves Purple Bowl. No one wants to see Purple Bowl go away. And the town of Chapel Hill is in a unique position: it actually has some leverage over the developer.

The developer Longfellow Real Estate Partners has already bought the land where it wants to open a new lab. They want to invest here. Presumably, they want to make their project attractive to town council. And there are ways to negotiate with Longfellow on Purple Bowl’s behalf, as Stephen details.

North Carolina allows local governments to enter into economic development agreements for large redevelopment projects like what Longfellow is proposing. And the town has a recent history with development agreements: it swapped land and parking decks with Grubb Properties to enable Grubb to demolish the Wallace Deck, design and build the town’s new parking garage on East Rosemary, and build its new wet lab on the same block.

By comparison, the town entering into an agreement with Longfellow to preserve or relocate Purple Bowl is a walk in the park.

Purple Bowl has what seems like a terrible lease

Purple Bowl, from what we gather, basically has no protections in place — and Longfellow can ignore them if they want to kick them out. That leaves Purple Bowl with limited leverage and options. (We have heard from knowledgeable folks that Longfellow has offered to assist Purple Bowl and other tenants, and will update this piece when we learn more details.)

Purple Bowl has responded to the mayor’s email to them

Mayor Pam wrote Purple Bowl an email and Purple Bowl has responded (their remarks in red.) They appear to want to stop the project entirely.

This could be a real commercial tax boon for the town

Right now, the building that houses Purple Bowl and Chimney pays $57,000 in taxes/year. Longfellow recently developed a lab in Durham that pays $550,000 per year in taxes; the site paid $23,000 before they developed it. We believe the additional tax revenue would be greater in Chapel Hill given our higher land costs, and a much-needed way to diversify and build our tax base beyond residential.

We’ll point out that this is also a point that CHALT has made in the past – and they specifically mentioned wet labs as a way to bring in high-tech development and diversify our tax base away from being heavily reliant on residential property taxes. This is from a piece entitled “High Tech Development in Chapel Hill: Progress and Challenges” authored by Rudy Juliano:

CHALT noted that ” Right now, Chapel Hill is very far from having anything that would be competitive with Biolabs Durham for companies that need wet-lab space.”

Y’all know it’s not often that we agree with CHALT. This is exciting!

We also believe that Downtown and Chapel Hill will benefit from projects like labs, which can be designed to have retail or mixed-use on the bottom floor. We want businesses that spin off from UNC to remain in Chapel Hill, not set up shop in RTP or Durham like they do now. We want our wonderful students to have viable careers and a thriving downtown available to them in Chapel Hill when they graduate, instead of having to move to Raleigh or Durham like so many do now. If we want cars off the road we need places for people to work in town that are close to transit and near where people live. We can’t keep treating RTP like Chapel Hill’s job center – it’s bad for our tax base, bad for the vitality of our downtown, and bad for the environment to have so many of our residents have to take long commutes to work. Having a non-UNC jobs center close to UNC is important for the future of the town.

This can be a win for Purple Bowl

Many of the buildings Downtown have reached or are reaching the end of their useful lives. Most of the buildings on the north side of the 100 East Franklin block are 100 years old and expensive to renovate, which means this is a conversation that’s going to come up time and time again.

People LOVE the buildings as they existed when they themselves went to college. They’re nostalgic. They’re reminiscent of a great time in our lives. But they’re getting to the point where they are not worth remodeling. The very building that part of Purple Bowl is located in (the building has a newer extension closer to Franklin Street) was flagged as having a dangerous roof when Blue Dogwood made renovations to it.

As we’ve said repeatedly, we don’t want Purple Bowl to go anywhere. Read the letters that have come into council and it’s clear how much people love this funky local spot. (We do too. One of us works across the street from Purple Bowl. Another orders so much that they’re on a first name basis with basically everyone who works there.)

We’d like to see a solution that keeps Purple Bowl in place or close by, and a new wet lab.

Stephen Whitlow helped with this piece.

In the last municipal election cycle, we helped increase turnout by over 20 percent. We're all volunteers who care deeply about Chapel Hill and Carrboro, and we're working to make Chapel Hill and Carrboro more vibrant, accessible, fun, and sustainable.  Please consider a small donation to help us keep our digital lights on, host events, and hire students to do data deep-dives.

Melody Kramer is a Peabody-award winning journalist whose work has appeared on NPR and member stations around the country, as well as in publications ranging from National Geographic to Esquire Magazine....