Former Library bar now part of UNC Chapel Hill’s investment portfolio

photo by Michelle Cassell.


By Fraser Sherman

The bar called The Library on Franklin Street closed due to the pandemic and it appears it will never reopen.

In 2021, then owner A.J. Tama said he was about to reopen but the landlords for the 120 East Franklin Street business opted not to renew the lease. The University of North Carolina Chapel Hill purchased the building in July and added it to its investment portfolio.

The Library opened in 2003, passing through several hands before Tama acquired it. On a 2020 GoFundMe page, he said he’d had no luck getting pandemic aid from the Small Business Association or the Payroll Protection Program but “we hope and pray to continue having this Chapel Hill staple around for years to come.”

That hope was not answered. Although the GoFundMe raised $1,240, the loss of the lease killed Tama’s plans to reopen. Now the building belongs to UNC.

Although UNC has major redevelopment plans for East Franklin Street and for neighboring Porthole Alley, the university’s media office told The Local Reporter those plans don’t include the building at 120: it’s available as a single-tenant business lease through UNC’s property office.

Porthole Alley is named for the Porthole, a restaurant that opened off Franklin in 1942.  For several years it housed the university’s development office, then the administrative offices for Carolina Performing Arts.

The university’s current plans include 120,000 square feet of retail space, office space, and a new home for UNC Undergraduate Admissions and the UNC Visitors Center. The university says this will draw thousands of prospective students and families to downtown Chapel Hill.

East Franklin’s 100 block is where the UNC Chapel Hill campus intersects the city’s downtown. UNC’s website says redeveloping its property in the area will build a stronger connection between city and university.

“When visitors, alumni and others participate in the new interactive Visitors Center, or when they eat and shop in our downtown restaurants and businesses, it will increase their overall fondness and memories for the University,” UNC Associate Vice Chancellor Gordon Merklein says online.

Merklein said that tenants currently occupying the buildings including some retailers and restaurateurs will relocate downtown with UNC help, while others will return to a renovated space on East Franklin Street.

The 101-year old Carolina Coffee Shop, for example, will see its home, the Hill Building, renovated to meet current building standards while keeping the historic facade. Merklein says that “should give the Carolina Coffee Shop a home for the next hundred years.”

In 2022, UNC issued a Request For Proposals to begin the final design work on its buildings. Merklein said review and approval of the project would take a year and a half, perhaps more, and that construction could begin within two years.

UNC Chapel Hill’s Franklin Street property is part of its $5 billion investment portfolio. The university’s 2022 annual report shows real estate makes up 7 percent of the university’s holdings. Even before acquiring 120 Franklin the university owned multiple other rental properties, though at time of writing its commercial rental map shows none of its other  rental assets are available for lease.

The largest investment categories listed in the report are 34.3 % with the Cambridge Associates Composite Index and 23.4 % in the MSCI All Country World Index. The report says that investing in real estate provides a hedge against inflation, and commercial real estate can generate added income.

“Other” will do the trick I think. Cut “currently” as “at the time of writing” implies that.

Fraser Sherman has worked for newspapers, including the Destin Log, the Pensacola News-Journal and the Raleigh Public Record. Born in England, he’d still live in Florida if he hadn’t met the perfect woman and moved to Durham to marry her. He’s the author of several film reference books and has published one novel and several short story collections.

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