By Laurie Paolicelli
Orange County, NC’s development pipeline was packed full of projects before anyone had ever heard of the coronavirus. But would that enthusiasm endure through a nationwide economic slowdown?
Over the last six months or so, the answer to that question has proven to be a tentative “yes.” The pandemic has undoubtedly slowed the pace of new development applications across the Triangle region, but it’s by no means halted it.
Despite dire warnings from some quarters that the spread of Covid-19 would mark the end of urban living or office work, developers have consistently pitched new apartment, office and hotel construction since public health concerns began shuttering businesses in March. It helps that the construction industry has been one of the few to be allowed to continue with minimal changes across North Carolina.
“It’s an interesting time and the jury is clearly still out on which way office demand will go,” developer Clay Grubb said. Grubb has pressed on with a state-of-the-art office building in the Glen Lennox complex in Chapel Hill. “We are actually still seeing office leases, but it’s primarily larger companies coming out of the urban markets and consolidating to be near where their folks want to live. And right now, it’s not as appealing to live in New York City and San Francisco and Washington, DC. That makes towns like Chapel Hill significantly more appealing.”
The four-story Gwendolyn is part of the mixed-used community in phase one of the 50-year-old neighborhood, one of the most distinct housing developments in North Carolina. It was built after World War II to accommodate the influx of veteran students to UNC, and the tree-lined streets and grassy areas are not seen in most duplex and tri-plex complexes.
There have been plenty of challenges, of course. In the early days of the pandemic, there was widespread confusion over how to move the development application and permitting process online. Developers were suddenly no longer able to meet in person with local government planners ahead of filing a big application — plus, everything from local planning commissions to advisory neighborhood commissions pressed pause on their meetings indefinitely, jamming up the process of engaging with neighbors and local design experts.
But, like everyone else, people working in the world of North Carolina development have learned to embrace video calls to keep the process moving.
Perhaps most importantly, there’s still broad confidence the North Carolina Triangle and Orange County will remain a desirable place to live, work and shop when the projects getting proposed now come online in a few years.
In gallery below, have a look at some of the projects that have been proposed and/or completed construction since the pandemic struck, illustrating what sort of developments are still desirable in a post-Covid world.
Strategic Plans 2021 | Orange County, NC
- Buc-ee’s retail project
- Durham Tech’s Orange County expansion
- Research Triangle Logistics park Hillsborough
- American Legion Club near Whitecross
- East Rosemary Street Chapel Hill
- Southern branch of Orange County Library in downtown Carrboro
- Sheraton Hotel Chapel Hill’s massive renovation
- Tru Hotel Development comes out of the ground on Fordham Boulevard
- Morehead Planetarium reopens after $9.2 million renovation
- The Parkline at former BlueCross BlueShield building opens
- Wegmans Grocer Prepares for February 2021 Grand Opening
- Colonial Inn Reopens in downtown Hillsborough
- Eno River Farm outdoor and indoor market opens on St. Mary’s Road Hillsborough
- Farm & Garden prepares construction in Hillsborough
- Glen Lennox complex continues rebuilding and renovating.
- W. Rosemary St. Hotel Project fronts West Rosemary Street and wraps around the historic Town Hall building to S Columbia Street. Rosemary/Columbia Streets Hotel | Town of Chapel Hill, NC
Laurie Paolicelli is the Executive Director of the Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau.