Why you should know Fenton, a future destination center in Cary

About 15 minutes from downtown Raleigh, a destination center is quietly building.

Work is starting within the orange netting just off the Cary Towne Boulevard I-40 exit for Fenton, a mixed-use site over 92 undeveloped acres next to Wake Med soccer park. 

Fenton is large retail, multifamily housing, shopping, dining and entertainment development with dining anchor Scott Crawford and shopping anchor Wegmans already announced. The first phase is planned to open in fall of 2021.

It’s also the beginning of a larger, more developed Eastern Cary Gateway, a focus area of the Town of Cary’s strategic plan for the future

The area’s development and redevelopment is gaining momentum with another big project: the struggling mall.

The town council recently heard a proposal to transform the aging Cary Towne Center and its surrounding surface parking into a 19-block “new urban grid” of office, living and retail space.

Besides added higher density housing and work spaces that could transform the area, the Eastern Cary Gateway is along the studied routes for the bus rapid transit line heading from downtown Raleigh to downtown Cary.

A view of Fenton in Cary NC

What to know

Fenton will include chef-driven restaurants, shops that might not have an existing brick and mortar footprint, events and green gathering space at its core.

Hines, a partner with Columbia Development in the project, says retail is 46% leased for the first phase, which includes 320,000 square feet of the 440,000 total planned square feet for retail. They anticipate that percentage rising to 65% by the end of the year.

When looking at the combined Raleigh-Durham metro areas, “Cary is always the 50-yard line,” said Nick Garzia, director of leasing for Hines.

It’s envisioned as a destination site similar to Avalon in Alpharetta, Atlantic Station in Atlanta or Kierland Commons in Scottsdale (near Phoenix, Arizona). 

“This is not your normal strip retail development. This is not a normal shopping center. This is something more,” said Rob Wilson, development planning manager for the Town of Cary. 

How big is Fenton?

Office space equivalent to more than four One Glenwood buildings: Though it will look different, the office space planned is equal to four and a half One Glenwood buildings or five MetLife buildings.

The total for the project is one million square feet of Class A office space (read: high-end offices). About 150,000 square feet of office space would be open in the first phase.

Added density with 800 multi-family units planned: About half, or 400 units, are planned to be open during the first development phase.

Restaurants at Fenton

Chef Scott Crawford’s modern American steakhouse concept was the first buzzy announcement for the project. Crawford Hospitality just opened the highly anticipated Jolie, a French bistro in the North Person Street district named after Scott Crawford’s daughter.Chef Scott Crawford’s modern American steakhouse concept was the first buzzy announcement for the project. Crawford Hospitality just opened the highly anticipated Jolie, a French bistro in the North Person Street district named after Scott Crawford’s daughter.

The Crawford Brothers steakhouse is a nod to the chef’s brother. The 4,500-square foot restaurant — much larger than Crawford & Son and Jolie— will open in phase 1. 

“Crawford Brothers will specialize in house dry-aged beef, an extensive wine program, a vibrant cocktail bar and lounge featuring a lighter menu, and will be open for lunch and dinner,” the release shared.

Columbia Development’s Dotan Zuckerman said that Crawford’s steakhouse is an “anchor” for Fenton’s culinary direction in the October press release, along with regional chef Ford Fry of Superica. 

Superica is an upscale Atlanta-based Tex Mex restaurant from chef Ford Fry. Its Charlotte location opened with a reported 3,000 guests in its first week, according to the Charlotte Agenda. 

Honeysuckle Gelato, which currently has locations in Atlanta’s Ponce City Market and Charlotte’s Optimist Hall food hall, is also confirmed for Fenton. 

The most recently announced restaurant is Colletta, an Italian restaurant located in Alpharetta’s Avalon mixed-use development— the same development town council and staff visited when exploring the idea of a high density mixed use concept to Cary. 

Colletta is part of the Charleston, S.C.,-founded Indigo Road Hospitality Group, which also owns O-Ku sushi and Oak Steakhouse, both in the Warehouse District’s Dillon building. 

Nick says they aim to “curate and craft a mix of not just shops but restaurants,” which means you won’t find restaurants within the same genre.

MORE FOOD NEWS: Downtown Raleigh is getting a weekend farmers market

Fenton is in the Eastern Cary Gateway area.

Shops, retail at Fenton

Expect boutique fitness locations alongside a mix of shops aiming to be “experiential centers.”

Some might be brands who haven’t had a brick and mortar location previously, or ones not yet in the Triangle area.

“We really view this has a highly serviced and amenitized business,” Nick said. 

In Fenton’s recently submitted plans, a concierge desk sits adjacent to a central green space and the movie theater, prime location. Nick describes concierge service as manned by hospitality-trained people. 

And instead of just Santa at the mall, Nick mentioned destination sites like Atlantic Station hosting the tennis tournament or Cirque de Soleil performances. 

Attention to design

The history of Fenton’s development in Cary goes back to a trip to Avalon, an upscale development in the Atlanta metro area’s affluent Alpharetta. 

You won’t find seas of asphalt and blocks of strip-mall design. Columbia Development created a 38-page design guidebook for Fenton during the process for the Town of Cary. 

The vision includes “utilizing eclectic architectural styles to create a vibrant and sophisticated environment that appears to have evolved over time, inviting visitors and residents to explore and linger throughout the development.”

“It makes it look authentic,” Rob said, “as opposed to you see a lot of projects where it’s just a concrete sidewalk for miles.”

Individual stores and restaurants will have different design characteristics, as well as the bones of the development, “incorporating attractive and diverse hardscaping and landscaping and thoughtfully integrating that hardscaping and landscaping throughout well-designed community gathering spaces.” 

In a recent town council meeting regarding the redevelopment of the struggling Cary Towne Center mall, the design guidebook Fenton created was mentioned as a helpful tool for town leadership and the public to understand the vision for a project. Read more about the growth of Eastern Cary Gateway in part 2, coming soon.

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