Over the past 12 years, as the developers behind Chatham Park accumulated thousands of acres of land near the town of Pittsboro, they did so knowing time was on their side.
The Triangle’s growth, they predicted, was likely to continue unabated, and at some point the pressures associated with that growth would push development west to areas once considered far flung.
It appears that time has arrived. After years of planning, lawsuits and negotiating with local officials, development activity is ramping up at Chatham Park, with the first phases of residential and commercial development expected to begin in about 12 months.
“It’s hard for the builders to find good buildable land in the western part of Cary and Apex,” said Tim Smith, a co-founder of Preston Development, the developer behind Chatham Park. “We think we’re in a good position for the future so over the next 30 years, 40 years, a lot of people are going to move out in our direction.”
Last week, Chatham Park announced that it has selected The Eco Group to develop the project’s first phase of commercial property.
John Fugo, one of Eco’s partners, says his group is already working with multiple tenants who will anchor the 44-acre first phase. One is a “very successful North Carolina brewery that needs a major distribution center” and the other is a major hotel brand, he said.
A third component will be a 125-unit, age-restricted senior apartment complex called Veranillo that will feature college classrooms on the ground floor and a live performance theater venue with 250 seats.
Residents will be able to enroll in college-level classes, and Fugo said his group is negotiating with a local theater company that will operate the venue and put on its own shows. In return for reduced rent, the group will teach drama to Triangle seniors who will then perform their own plays and sell tickets to the public.
Fugo’s group is partnering with EngAGE, a California nonprofit that has built or renovated six similar properties in the Los Angeles area. EngAGE has also located its concept in more than 50 other facilities across California. Fugo said he learned about EngAGE after listening to a TED Talk by the founder of EngAGE, Tim Carpenter.
Fugo said Eco expects to begin construction of the first phase early next year. The second phase, which will cover 95 acres, is now going through the rezoning process.
Chatham Park’s initial commercial phase will be on the north side of Russet Run, across the street from where UNC Health Care recently opened a 25,000-square-foot medical office building. UNC is also building a 10-bed hospice facility that is scheduled to open in the fall, and a 16,000-square-foot office building is set to open in mid-June.
Preston’s Smith said the project’s $6 million bridge over the U.S. 64 bypass is set to be completed July 17, after which work can begin on the roads that will connect it to Chatham Park. A new 950-student private school is expected to begin construction in about six months, he said.
Chatham Park’s developers now control more than 8,000 acres, and the project is zoned for 22,000 homes.
Smith expects the first residential housing in Chatham Park to also begin construction in about 12 months. He said the initial batch of homes and townhomes will start at $250,000 and go up to $500,000, with later communities expected to feature homes at $1 million and above.
Smith said rising land costs in Wake County mean that many builders that target the $250,000 to $500,000 price points are having trouble finding opportunities.
“We have a tremendous amount of interest from all the corporate builders and a lot of the custom builders to be in Chatham Park,” he said.
Eco is developing the initial commercial phase with the goal of making it distinct and unique enough to attract shoppers even before there’s a critical mass of housing in Chatham Park.
“We think that there is some existing commercial demand in addition to the demand that will be created as the Chatham Park gets started and matured,” said Kirk Bradley, who founded Eco in 2009 with Fugo and also runs Lee-Moore Capital. “ ... What we want to create is something that will be the front door for the project.”
Bradley was also the developer behind Governor’s Club, the Chapel Hill golf course community, and he said Chatham Park’s commercial section will reflect the different type of amenities that people want today.
“Twenty years ago when we developed Governor’s Club you did a golf course and that drove your residential sales,” he said. “Now people are looking for other things. And part of that other thing is an entertainment and gathering area that’s outside of their homes.”
Chatham Park’s commercial section will be about 2 miles from downtown Pittsboro, and Fugo said Eco wants to create something that is complementary to what already is there.
“One of our main goals is to work with all of the existing downtown merchants in Pittsboro and keep them involved as we develop the commercial areas of Chatham Park so they benefit from what we’re doing,” he said.
Still, there remains a lot of anxiety among Pittsboro merchants about what Chatham Park will mean for them.
“We’ve had meetings with them, we have more meetings scheduled,” Fugo said. “We have specific thoughts on how to work with those tenants downtown to make sure they maintain and prosper.”