With Cary Towne Center redevelopment and Fenton, Eastern Cary Gateway would transform

Things are happening in the area of Cary closest to Raleigh. 

Two projects — one approved and in progress and one that’s seeking a rezoning for its redevelopment — would transform the area, called Eastern Cary Gateway.

Why it’s a big deal:

The 2.2 million square-feet of Class A office space of the two projects combined is equivalent to the Class A office square footage under construction or planned in fast-growing Downtown Raleigh.

Together, the mixed use developments would add a significant amount of higher-density housing in a town whose history is largely suburban residential developments.

The projects:

Fenton, the 92-acre development of office, multi-family housing and retail under construction now just off the Cary Towne Boulevard exit of I-40, is just the beginning. 

Further behind in the process but equally dramatic in its proposed changes is the redevelopment of Cary Towne Center, a struggling mall nearby. 

While Fenton is the largest development in Cary history, the Cary Towne Center redevelopment is probably the second largest, Mayor Harold Weinbrecht said in a Aug. 15 Cary Town Council meeting.

Discussions on Cary Towne Center + regional transit routes in the area are happening now:

The Cary Towne Center redevelopment is the topic of the Planning & Zoning board work session Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. with a new design guidebook outlining the vision from mostly-empty mall and sea of surface parking to a new urban-type grid. 

Meanwhile, a bus rapid transit meeting on the route that would go from downtown Raleigh, through N.C. State and Eastern Cary Gateway to downtown Cary, will be 4-8 p.m. at the McKimmon Center today.

Bus rapid transit (or BRT) is a transit strategy for faster, more reliable public transportation, commonly using dedicated lanes. 

Why are things happening in Eastern Cary Gateway?

The Eastern Cary Gateway is a focus of the town’s “Imagine Cary” 2040 plan, which guides much of the decisions. The plan, which was created through a process of community feedback, was adopted in January 2017.

This plan is often referenced by town staff and town councilors during their decision-making process. 

The Eastern Cary Gateway, the plan says, is the entrance and exit for 50% of commuters.

Its vision is to grow employment in Cary by creating competitive facilities where (emphasis added): “development is physically compact, transit-accessible, and technically-wired, and that offer mixed use housing, office, recreation, and retail uses together to provide a quality of life that can be marketed to employees.”

Where is Eastern Cary Gateway?

The Eastern Cary Gateway is defined by the Town as about 800 acres off the I-40 interchange at Chapel Hill and Cary Towne Blvd exits.

It’s the area closest to the Raleigh border when you’re headed to Downtown Cary for a beer at Bond Brothers. Speaking of, the brewery is expanding to a second location in Eastern Cary Gateway at 602 East Chatham Street, less than a mile from their downtown locale.

Eastern Cary Gateway now “includes a wide variety of uses that are generally fragmented and disconnected,” according to the 2040-focused plan. 

There’s a mix of light industrial facilities, heavy commercial, the WPTF Transmitter and the State Lab of Hygiene buildings. 

There’s the Wake Med soccer park (where you can catch world-class soccer from the NC Courage or a North Carolina FB match) and Triangle Aquatic Center campus (which is expanding) and year-round Adams Elementary School.

There’s a block wrapped with not-fully-leased strip malls with a DMV driver’s license location, a seafood market and a Mexican restaurant. 

When Fenton is built, in the undeveloped land between Wake Med soccer park and across the street from Cary Towne Center, it will add one million square feet of office space (or five MetLife buildings), 800 multi-family units and retail including restaurants from local restauranteur Scott Crawford and Atlanta celebrity chef Ford Fry [read more about Fenton].

Map from the Imagine Cary plan

A gentrifying effect possible

Along Maynard Road, not far from the new planned developments, there’s also multifamily housing including affordable housing Mobile Estates. 

From the 2040 Imagine Cary plan: “The Mobile Estates mobile home park of approximately 250 homes located in the NW quadrant of the planning area provides a sizable amount of affordable housing in Cary today, and may be redeveloped over the horizon of this plan to realize the vision for the area as a high-density transit-oriented development.”

As new development moves into Downtown Cary, too, longtime businesses are experiencing a gentrifying effect.

The possible routes for Western Boulevard’s public transit BRT line connecting downtown Raleigh, NC State and downtown Cary run through the Eastern Cary Gateway.

The framework for the future Eastern Cary Gateway indicates the area as multifamily/transit oriented. There is some information on affordable housing in the Imagine Cary plan (on page 25).

What’s next for Cary Towne Center?

Cary Towne Center, a struggling mall recently bought by Turnbridge Equities and Denali Properties, the News & Observer reported, pitched mostly as office and higher density residential.

Unlike Fenton, a project already approved and under construction now, Cary Towne Center plans have not yet been approved by the town council. 

During the August town council meeting discussing the rezoning of the mall, town staff presented details of the proposed redevelopment and how it fits in with the Eastern Cary Gateway plan. 

The redevelopment area is a 87 acres, a traditional mall surrounded by a large amount of surface parking.

Cary Towne Center mall.

The proposal is a “new urban grid” with 19 blocks of office, residential, hotel, commercial and 70% of parking in decks. The redevelopment envisions two acres of community gathering space. The buildings could rise up to 12 stories. 

“It takes advantage of its location, future regional transportation and land development potential,” said Scot Berry, director of planning, inspections and development services, in the August council meeting.

The numbers proposed in August:

  • 1.2 million square feet of office space — more than doubling Fenton’s planned 1 million square feet of office space.
  • 360,000 square feet of commercial
  • 450 hotel rooms
  • 1,800 residential units

A design guidebook, similar to what the Fenton team provided to the Town Council, was requested at that meeting and is now linked in the agenda for Tuesday’s work session.

The guidebook “utilizes pictures to convey the caliber of design, overall quality of materials, and the type, character, and relationship of design elements that may be used and combined to create a unique and special sense of place for the Project.”

Interesting elements you might see in a more urban environment include:

  • Facades that open to “extend outdoors,” such as garage-door-type openings 
  • Rooftop terraces and second-floor retail
  • Widened sidewalks for outdoor dining
  • Residential blocks organized around courtyards and elevated entrances to townhouses
  • Community gathering spaces with public art, recreational activities and social gathering spaces
  • Possible designated spaces for food trucks or farmers markets

What’s next: According to the town site, the Cary Towne Center development will go before the Zoning and Planning board during its regular meeting on Nov. 18. After the Zoning and Planning board makes its recommendations, referencing the Imagine Cary plan, the rezoning request will go to the Cary Town Council for a final decision.

Can’t attend the Western Boulevard BRT meeting? Give feedback here.

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READ MORE: New Cary public library opens with expanded storytimes.

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