Southern Village


By Laurie Paolicelli

The Village Green in Southern Village offers live music all summer long.

Long time Chapel Hillians might find it hard to believe that one of the biggest attractions for visitors and newcomers to this area is Southern Village, a planned community located two miles from the heart of downtown Franklin Street.

Thirty years have passed since the town of Chapel Hill approved a small area plan for the southern part of Chapel Hill and, by the look of things, it was a wise move.

DR Bryan and former Chapel Hill Mayor Rosemary Waldorf worked together to bring a hotel to Southern Village.

The development was created by DR (Donald) Bryan and Jim Earnhardt in the early 1990s. First approvals were granted late in 1993. Fast forward to 2024 and the quaint village public lawn is booked one hundred days a year, from the North Carolina Symphony playing to packed crowds to weekly outdoor movies and live concerts. For the last decade this Village Green has hosted a myriad of events including food festivals and farm markets and it’s also a popular gathering spot for 5ks and other events. When it’s not booked, you’ll find kids playing, studying, or kicking back enjoying the grassy green on a sunny day with a lawn chair and good book.

The inspiration for this new urbanist neighborhood came from Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberck of Miami. They promoted this type of dense, mixed-use development that was oriented more toward people than automobiles. Walkability is a key principle, as is access to public transit.

Seaside, a small resort community in northwest Florida on the Gulf of Mexico, was one of the first developments to incorporate these new urbanist principles. It is known for its late-20th-century design, as well as pastel-colored houses featuring porches and white picket fences. Shops and restaurants cluster in the town center. This picture-perfect, walkable beach town is famous both as the birthplace of the New Urbanism design movement and as the filming location of the 1998 movie “The Truman Show” starring Jim Carey.

Seaside proved we can build new places with the qualities we love about classic neighborhoods—a notion once considered a nostalgic but impossible dream.

The Town Hall Grill.

Bryan cites four main “anchors” of Southern Village that serve as a beacon for visiting guests. Weaver Street Market, the Lumina Movie Theater, a Village lawn with rotating musicians and entertainment and a park and ride lot. “It’s amazing how many people eat, drink and play in Southern Village before catching their bus to a game.”

In May 2017, the Hyatt Hotel opened in Southern Village, creating another significant anchor.

Bryan said that Southern Village has a large amount of office space. Private businesses and a large UNC Health dermatology office help sustain the downtown marketplace.

La Vita Dolce.

He also credits the town’s fare-free bus service as a draw for many tenants. “The public bus runs right through the village providing easy connections to the hospital, university and downtown.”

Strays and Postage.

Bill Peebles, who launched Raleigh’s Rialto Theater, The Colony and Studio I and II, planned the Lumina Theater with a four-screen movie theater with stadium seating and an indoor cafe. He also planned to show first-run films during the summer in a 100-yard open green in the center of the square, directly across from the new theater. Jeremy Welman bought The Lumina in 2023 and is continuing Peebles’ vision.

Outdoor movies on the Village Green.

“When Weaver Street Market came in as an anchor tenant,” Bryan says, “they envisioned their organic space differently than I did. Ruffin Slater had a vision and we let him run with it. I am grateful for that.”

An elementary school was not envisioned in the early plans, but when former Chapel Hill Town Council Members (the late) Lee Pavao and Rosemary Waldorf took a walking tour during the evolving phase-one of Southern Village, Jim Earnhardt pointed out that some acreage adjacent to the village center was uncommitted. They asked Bryan if he would be willing to donate the land for a school site, and he readily agreed.

“There was a commitment by the school developer to build the school in the style of famed Harvard architect, H.H. Richardson, who favored picturesque roofline profiles, semi-circular arches supported on clusters of squat columns, and round arches over clusters of windows on massive walls.

Paula de Pano, Owner of Rocks and Acid Wine Shop.

“Our talent was adding flesh to the bones that the Town of Chapel Hill created by bringing our combined experience to the table, and then letting our partners interject their own design views. In the end, we have a neighborhood village that has single family homes, condos, apartments, a walking path that cuts through it and a bustling commercial district that offers everything from Al’s Burgers and Market and Moss fine dining to a movie theater, coffee shop, liquor store and the only Singapore/Malaysian restaurant in town.”

Rasa Malaysia.

There are some Chapel Hillians who have been around awhile that they once envisioned these 2,700 acres as rural. “I thought of that area as the suburbs, more of a country spot,” said a local historian.

But today what you’ll find is a bustling community filled with kids walking to school, neighbors walking their dogs, visitors walking with their lawn chair to hear a live concert and the occasional sound of church bells to remind you that it takes a village to build a village and that everyone is welcome in this one, Southern Village, Chapel Hill.

See here for a list of 2024 concerts, movies, and special events in Southern Village.

All dogs welcomed in Southern Village.

Laurie Paolicelli is executive director for the Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau, a position she has held since 2005. Laurie has worked in tourism and marketing for twenty-five years, having served in leadership roles in Houston and California convention and visitor bureaus. She is a native of the Twin Ports of Duluth, MN/Superior Wisconsin. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Business and Communications from the University Wisconsin-Superior and graduate certification in Technology In Marketing from the UNC-Chapel Hill’s Hussman School of Journalism and Media.

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