Bell Tower Merchants: No Notice on NCSU Hotel

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Correction appended: The original article stated Ric Culross is the owner of Schoolkids’ Records. Culross is an employee.

Ringing phones, concerned customers and media phone calls. That’s how many Hillsborough Street business owners first learned that N.C. State University had awarded a contract to build a luxury hotel between Enterprise Street and Maiden Lane.

Last week, local real estate development group Bell View Partners and The Bernstein Companies, a Washington D.C.-based real estate group, were selected to redevelop the site, which was acquired by the university’s endowment fund some years ago. The fund is capitalized by donations and profits made by investing donated funds.

All business owners knew redevelopment plans were in the works, but none received advance notice before the news went public.

“I’ve been hearing about a hotel for the past six or seven months, so that was not a surprise, but no one has ever talked to me about me getting out of the space or what they were doing with the corner,” said Rose Schwetz, owner of longtime Raleigh landmark Sadlacks’ Heroes. “No one has talked to us about anything; the university has not talked to us about anything, so we are all hanging there in the dark.”

Ric Culross, who works at Schoolkids Records, said it was a poor approach.

“The only thing that I was surprised at is that no information was offered to the tenants here, so we could announce the news and make plans, too,” he said.

Ever since the announcement he has been “flooded with phone calls and questions and people dropping by to say ‘thanks.’ They even took pictures of our neon sign and things like that.”

Merchants Unsure What Future Holds
Sadlack’s Heroes has been located at the corner of Enterprise and Hillsborough Streets since 1973, according to Susan Harb, who was married to Frank Sadlack when the business opened its doors. At the time, the restaurant had 17 seats and offered delivery to nearby N.C. State campus students.

Culross said Schoolkids Records has been on Hillsborough Street for 38 years, but moved next to Sadlacks’ in January 2009. Buddha’s Belly, the Groom Room Barbershop, Roundabout Art Collective and the Bell Tower Mart also occupy business space between Enterprise Street and Maiden Lane.

Frank Sadlack and his wife, Susan, on Sadlack's opening night.

The Groom Room and Buddha’s Belly have month-to-month leases, The Bell Tower Mart’s lease expires in December 2011 and Schoolkids Records’ lease expires in March of 2012.

Schwetz said Sadlack’s lease has three to four more years with a 10-year option.

For the most part, business owners aren’t sure what they will do once construction begins.

The project calls for ground-floor retail space below the hotel, but Schwetz does not know if there will be room for Sadlack’s.

“You can’t make any decision until they talk to you and I have not seen the plan, the new structure, so I do not know what size the retail space will be or about parking,” she said. “Really I just don’t know. I’m in a wait-and-see situation.”

Speaking through tears, Bell Tower Mart’s owner Anne Choi said university officials told her there might be space in the new complex.

“I was so surprised to hear about this yesterday and I have no idea when things will change,” she said.

Jay Long, who owns Buddha’s Belly, said his plans are up in the air, but knows he wants to relocate “near the N.C. State University campus.”

Davion Davis, interviewed while barbering a customer in his businesses, the Groom Room Barbershop, has the same plan. He said he felt confident most of his customers would follow him; clients waiting for a trim spoke up to agree.

Wrecking Balls Not Imminent
Business owners have plenty of time to make plans. The project won’t begin anytime soon, according to Ralph Reccie, N.C. State’s director of real estate.

The land acquisition will take time, as will the zoning, permitting and design phases.

“This is not an overnight thing; this is not something that is happening next week,” he said. “I would be surprised if the site was under construction in 12 to 14 months.”

He also finds the furor misplaced.

“Sadlacks is not necessarily going away,” he said. “It is not necessarily going to be at that location but the name has a reputation, so it is up to Rose as to what she wants to do — relocate, reopen within the new project. There are a myriad of options.”

“You can’t have redevelopment and substantial development in a neighborhood without someone having to be relocated,” he said.

Schwetz is keeping her options open until she finds out whether she would “fit into their plans in any way shape, or form that would keep Sadlack’s as a sandwich shop and a music venue, which is important for that whole area.”

Reccie said answering the merchant’s questions may take some time and the university may not be the source for the answers.

“This is privately funded investor-based project. When Bell View acquires the land, they will also be subject to the terms of the leases,” he said.

Meanwhile, merchants say they will just keep working.

“I’m going to stay open until they tell me I have to close,” Culross said. “When we find out when we need to leave, we will make plans at that point, but at the current time our plans are to stay here and keep doing business here.”

Schwetz agreed, saying she is “going to stay open until they tell me I have to close, so until then I will just continue on our merry way.”

3 thoughts on “Bell Tower Merchants: No Notice on NCSU Hotel

  1. This seems like an odd thing for the university to be spending money on. Do they hope to make money from it?

  2. Evidently the university doesn’t need the money to fulfill its educational mission. They can’t expect to make money on this project. Across Enterprise St. from Sadlack’s is the former Lemon Tree Hotel, which failed and NCSU turned it into a dorm. Down the street a few blocks is the Velvet Cloak, which failed and they are now renting it out to long-term tenants. The Hilton failed, became the Brownestone, which failed, and is now the Holiday Inn.

  3. It was pretty darn tacky to announce this to the whole wide world before you even have a sit-down chat with your own loyal tenants. Very poor approach, NCSU…have you no manners?

    Sure I think a nice new hotel could conceivably work on Hillsborough Street, but not on this block. A more appropriate place probably would have to been buy out the Velvet Cloak and redevelop that parcel, or to knock down the North Residence hall. Or maybe some of those dilapidated, abandoned buildings on the stretch between Gorman and Dixie?? That area is where the most need for redevelopment is!