The Downtown "Riddle"

If you are interested in the Downtown "Riddle," you must read the May/June edition of the Chapel Hill Magazine.  On page 56, there is an interview with Fayetteville's own Joe Riddle, the well-known owner of some of our empty Franklin St. property.

In the "Letter from the publisher," Dan Shannon says the interview is "a lively mixture of raw honesty, combativeness, disingenuousness and skepticism."  The wary Riddle doesn't treat reporter Lisa Rossi with much respect and obviously doesn't believe that any interview will do him justice.

Riddle, a 1977 UNC grad has good things to say about the Chancellor and Manager Stancil and hopes that UNC will work out a deal for using the space on the corner of Franklin and Columbia with Wachovia. 

 Joe Riddle has a lot to say and as this was more than I have ever heard from him, it was a fascinating read.  I highly recommend it.

 PS:  in the same issue Freddie Kiger has a "stories" piece and mentions then CH Alderman Gerry Cohen in his story about the Western Sizzlin where Breadmen's is now.



My house is the one that was moved to make way for Western Sizzlin.  If anyone has a picture or memories from its former life (at one point Coach Fetzer's house, then a hippie house, then a grad student rental) or the big tree controversy it would be great to hear them .  You can email me at Convissor

That was before my time, Linda, but I used to live on Amity Court, right there behind Breadmen's (formerly Western Sizzlin).  And I think the sidewalk in front of there still has a Joni Mitchell quote drawn into it by an activist finger, long ago.  That wasn't you, was it? ;)

is mentioned in Freddie's story:  "Take paradise and put up a parking lot - Joni."  (Joni Mitchell) The lyric is a play on Big Yellow Taxi.

Is the text of the story mentioning me onlne? If not, can anyone mail me a copy or scan it and email?  Reply to


from the story (thanks Fred for scanning it for me):" It didn't help when protesters learned that Alderman Gerry Cohen, who was to inspect the proposed con­struction site, was given the wrong address and therefore inspected a vacant lot across the street."I have absolutely no recollection of this tale. I suppose it could be true. Wonder where he got it? Maybe a Chapel Hill newspaper story from the time? In any case, there was no vacant lot across the street.  I think the old Burger Chef, which became Breadmen's, was across the street.I remember talking to the developer, who told me he had to cut the trees down to get maximum value from the lot because it was so expensive. I tried explaining that some of the value CAME from what was at the time a West Rosemary streetscape that had LOTS of trees. No luck. I remember helping a group, including Bob Epting, taking the developer to the Board of Adjustment on a building permit appeal.

Mark, For all sorts of reasons, I'm glad you think I might have done it,  including that I listened to Joni Mitchell every moment I was in college and after.  But, I was still in Florida then.  The irony to me is that one of my responsiblities in my first planning job - in Bradenton -  was to decide on whether trees on single-family lots could be cut down or not and then I came to live in a house that was part a huge controversy because a very old tree was cut down to make way for it and the Western Sizzlin.  I've heard of people who still won't eat at Breadmans due to that.  Anyway, I can't wait to see the sidewalk quote.  Sorry this is out of sequence; meant to be a reply to Mark.   Linda Convissor

Riddle says it's not his fault that the old Carolina Theater remains empty.  Don't I remember him throwing them out of that location?  I don't feel much pity for him having to pay taxes on that property.

Today I heard that the Varsity Theater is closing at the end of the month because the building owner is "tripling the rent."  Riddle? 

PIN#: 9788376425 TMBL#: 7.80A..3 TRACT#: 705237 Property Owner: RUMFELT JAMES M Owner's Mailing Address: P O BOX 520 SNOW CAMP NC, 27349 Legal Description: FRANKLIN STREET He is also listed as the owner of 121 and 125 E. Franklin St.

Thanks, Fred.  The Varsity news doesn't smell like a rumor to me, though I'm really not at liberty to name the source.  - c. 

One of the a.m. local news reports said that it's closing "for the summer months" because the students aren't there to see the first-run movies.  (Or at least that's how they reported it, skewed though it might be.)My first reaction was that it would take nothing at ALL to extend the "summer months" indefinitely, which would be a true shame. And if the rent has indeed been increased, that would be all the more probable.My next reaction is that I'm one of the ones guilty of occasionally chosing other theaters over the Varsity because of the various, well-documented hassles of dealing with downtown.    

Since other buildings on Franklin Street are empty or lowering their rent (the Artichoke Basil building rent is at ca. 2000 levels according to the restaurant's owner), this rumor either has no basis or the Varsity building's owner knows something that other Franklin St. owners don't-- or he's a really bad businessman. --
"... whatever you live is life."
-Robert Penn Warren

Mark Schultz's article on the Varsity in yesterday's CH News ( ) does a nice job of highlighting the disappearance of movie-theater screens in Chapel Hill and the landowners/developers' roles in the process. It brings me back to one of my one-note harp solos - viz., that "dinner and a movie" is a basic reason people will frequent a commercial area.  I know it's simplistic, but somehow creators of ersatz downtowns like Southpoint and Southern Village have gotten that better than planners of revitalization for Durham and Raleigh -- and there's a sense of helplessness as we watch the Varsity go the way of the Carolina and Village Plaza theaters.It's not only that empty buildings don't bring in revenue, it's also what was going on in the buildings that are now empty.

I've never understood why Riddle bought the old Univ Chrysler-Plymouth  dealership on W. Franklin and has done nothing with if for a few years.   The land records show that he still owns it.  Of course, we could wonder the same thing about the Colonial Inn in Hillsborough -- bought by someone (not Riddle) who just allowed it to decay.  Or when Outback Steakhouse bought the Wicked Burrito and let in languish for years, though this last one could be caused by color blindness.I never truly believed the justification that Riddle gave in a news article a year ago as to why he let a prime Franklin St. location sit vacant, namely that he is looking for the "perfect tenant", not just another store like all the others.

From the article:ROSSI: You mentioned that more people livng downtown could solve some of its ·problems. Do you foresee mixed-use development at any of your properties? In 2004, you said it might be a possibility in the area of land you own by the building that used to house University Chrysler. RIDDLE: When I bought the Chrysler build­ing, I had five lots. I was talking about a project of combining retail, office and restaurant. I never did it. The economy is bad right now.   ROSSI: Is it in your long-term vision?   RIDDLE: The property I got there is real irregularly shaped. The idea was assembling the properties in a nice rectangle there. My dilemma is Lantern and Studio Supply are there - two viable businesses on part of that block. There's also a home. I don't own it all. My only option is to rent [his parking lot on West Franklin Street] for parking. [The old Chrysler building] is in bad repair. I considered tearing it down. That old building - it maybe gets redone, but it will take a lot of work to fix it. When I bought it, we [did] a lot of work to clean it up.  

There is such a thing as the "perfect landlord."  When Berkeley moved his business to its present location, the prospective landlord put him through about six months of proving his worth as a long term ("perfect") tenant.  What he got in return was a landlord worth waiting for -- responsive and supportive since Day One.  Mr. Riddle is treating Franklin Street like a game of Monopoly that goes on forever. 

I guess I missed the business school course "How to make money with empty buildings."   

Here is a link to owner Bruce Stone's statement to WCHL on the closing: 

Beat me to the punch, Fred.  Just posted that, with excerpts, on my own OP blog ( )  He is gracious about the landlord and attributes the failure to the downturn in both general and film industry economies, but his comments about downtown are telling:"There are other, secondary reasons that might compromise the viability of downtown theaters in general and to the Varsity in particular.  Many people claim they resist downtown because of traffic, and the expense and difficulty of parking.  Sad that this should be an obstacle, but many see free parking as a birthright. And of course the excitement of a college town means football and basketball games with all the attendant traffic and congestion... "  

because it is awfully negative towards potential customers....My
characterization of it has been that paying to park is an obstacle. 
And people are going to do their activities in the way that has the
least obstacles. We can blame those people all we want, but
that doesn't change behavior.  If there are unique activities downtown
that people are willing to overcome obstacles to get to, great.  But it
seems to me that retailers are telling us over and over the obstacles
are an issue for many customers.  Why can't we listen and change something?


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