Cary Towne Center owner CBL & Associates Properties thought it had found the spark that would revitalize the struggling mall two years ago when it announced that TopGolf would build an entertainment complex there.
But some of its neighbors weren’t happy and submitted a petition protesting the rezoning request, saying TopGolf would create too much light and noise. The opposition prompted TopGolf to look elsewhere.
Now Sweden-based retailer IKEA says it wants to build a 359,000-square-foot store and two-level parking deck on the part of the mall where TopGolf would have gone, and has so far been met with a much warmer reception. And with IKEA on board, the mall announced this week that it is pushing forward with further redevelopment efforts to turn the rest of the site into a “dynamic mixed-use destination” with a mix of stores, restaurants, theaters, apartments, offices and green space.
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The CBL and IKEA announcements come after years of struggle and several lost tenants at Cary Towne Center. After Sears closed in January 2015, Macy’s followed suit in April 2016 as part of a series of closings across the country. JC Penney, Belk and Dillard’s have remained.
Since Macy’s and Sears closed, other retailers in the mall, particularly around those vacant department stores, have followed suit. Now fewer people wander the Cary Towne Center throughout the day, said Megan Robertson, an employee at Southern Charm Gift Boutique at the mall.
“I think IKEA is going to bring a lot of business to this mall and bring it back to life,” Robertson said. “Because it’s kind of like a little ghost town right now, and not many people think it exists anymore.”
Stephanie Young Robidoux, manager at Southern Charm Gift Boutique, has heard rumors of other retailers and restaurants interested in coming to Cary Towne Center because of IKEA. She said she can’t wait for the company to bring change to the mall.
“Everyone’s excited,” she said. “I’ve heard no one saying it would be a bad thing.”
Michelle Muir, who has lived near the mall since 1998, expects IKEA will be a catalyst for other changes.
“We should see home values go up,” Muir said. “We should see additional retail, restaurants and grocery stores. IKEA’s entrance into this part of Cary is certainly going to revitalize the area.”
Some are more muted in their praise of IKEA.
John Sorrell, who lives in the Ivy Meadows neighborhood adjacent to the mall, said he is “cautiously optimistic” about the mall’s future, keeping in mind CBL’s previous attempt with TopGolf. Sorrell, like dozens of other residents, worried about the noise and light from TopGolf, which generally closes midnight or later.
IKEA closes around 8 or 9 p.m., which is one reason Sorrell thinks the retailer is a better fit for the site. But he said while the concept sounds great, the neighbors won’t know specifics until later in the process.
“I don’t think we’ll know until we get deeper into the site-plan process,” he said.
Since rumors began swirling about IKEA coming to Cary Towne Center a few months ago, traffic has been one of the only concerns that Councilman Don Frantz has heard so far.
“I would say the overwhelming majority of folks are very excited,” he said. “I’ve heard a few concerns – traffic being one of them, of course. But as with any project, a traffic study is part of the process and things we are going to look at as we move through the process.”
Some people have taken to social media to point out the potential traffic headache that IKEA could create.
“Can’t wait but will wait a year after it opens to go,” Youngsville resident Donna Dames said on Facebook. “When they came to Palo Alto, Calif, traffic was a nightmare for months!!! Cary seems to be crowded as it is already. I can (imagine) what it’s going to be like once IKEA opens. They should find a better location!!!”
Barbara Leedy, who works at The Special Event Company near the mall, has worried about traffic in the past. But after a neighborhood meeting CBL held earlier this year, Leedy said she feels like traffic will be dealt with.
“I know a lot of time and attention will be put into traffic control and making sure the infrastructure is in place before something of that magnitude opens,” she said.
Another neighbor – Triangle Aquatic Center, a nonprofit public aquatic facility to the east of the proposed IKEA site – now uses some of the mall’s parking lot for overflow. This has been a sticking point during previous redevelopment talks, but this time is different.
The aquatic center is under contract to purchase two acres from CBL. That plus five acres the aquatic center already owns will be enough space to build additional parking, said its president Mike Curran.
“We think IKEA is going to be a great draw for our out-of-town families that visit TAC for swim meets,” Curran said. “And the parking, which was a concern at one time, has been fully resolved.”
IKEA must submit a development plan and get the town’s approval before it can begin construction. A public hearing before the Town Council has yet to be scheduled, according to town staff.
If approved, the store could be open as early as summer 2020, the company said.
“I don’t foresee this having any problems going through our process,” Frantz said. “And we are going to do everything we can to help it work through the process.”
Kathryn Trogdon: 919-829-4845: @KTrogdon