Neighbors of Cary Towne Center are anxious to see the vacant buildings that once housed the Macy’s and Sears department stores come down and be replaced with new development that would turn the struggling mall into a destination.
And they want that change to come as quickly as possible.
More than 75 people attended a neighborhood meeting Wednesday to learn more about the mall owner’s rezoning request that could result in the long-awaited revitalization of Cary Towne Center.
“I’m really excited,” said Michelle Muir, who has lived near the mall since 1998. “I think it would create great opportunities for serious retail places to come in.”
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The neighborhood meeting was the next step in the process that CBL & Associates Properties, the mall’s owner, began in early February when a rezoning request was submitted to the Town of Cary to begin revamping about a third of the 60-acre mall property.
The rezoning, seen as the first part of the mall’s revitalization, covers the eastern part of the property, which includes the vacant Macy’s and Sears buildings and land toward the Triangle Aquatic Center.
Mall officials have said this rezoning request launches what they hope will be a multi-phase project that may bring more retail, dining and entertainment options to the area off Interstate 40. It could provide a “‘park once’ shopping and dining experience germane to modern mixed-use development,” according to the application.
“When the Sears closed, it became clear that something needed to be done,” said Jason Barron, an attorney with Morningstar Law Group representing the mall. “The time is now to make that something happen – or at least start the process of making something happen.”
The rezoning application shows a map of the 20-acre site with three buildings and a two-story parking deck totaling up to 380,000 square feet. Individual square footage for each building is not included in the application, and tenants have not been identified. None were discussed at Wednedsay’s meeting.
If the Cary Town Council approves the request, the mall would be allowed to build retail on that part of the site with a height of 60 feet and with setbacks of 150 feet from the adjacent Ivy Meadows neighborhood. This would allow for buildings 6 feet taller than the vacant Macy’s building.
Jacqueline Richards, a resident in the nearby Walnut Ridge neighborhood, asked what the timeline would be for constructing the new development. When she found out it could be two years before anything could be built, she said, “Really?” in a disappointed tone.
Neighbors at the meeting had questions about what these changes would mean in comparison to current conditions. They also requested that lighting that spills over into their neighborhood be avoided and traffic impacts considered.
“While we are in full support of this redevelopment, we just want to make sure as this project gets further down the pipeline that traffic is considered,” said Barbara Leedy, who works in the area. “Walnut Street traffic is already pretty bad.”
But the conversation continued to return to whether there would be future phases of redevelopment at the mall. Several brought up the recent announcement that JCPenney would close 140 stores nationwide, but Barron said he is not aware that the Cary Towne Center location is one of them.
“I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of more things happening at the mall,” Barron said. “I think that’s certainly the hope of the mall ownership is that the mall becomes something bigger and better than it currently is, but for right now, this is really all that is on the table.”
Pam Campbell, a resident of the nearby Maynard Oaks neighborhood, asked Barron if he this project would be something “cohesive and new” or if it would just be “perking up what we already have.”
“There are two indoor malls that do really well in this marketplace but the market has kind of chosen winners and losers in the area about what indoor malls are going to work well,” Barron said. “I don’t believe it’s going to be more of the same, or else they wouldn’t be going through this process to try to create something new.”
While no tenants have been identified, Barron said the rezoning request is being pursued to “create flexibility to be able to respond to market opportunities when they present themselves.”
But rumors about IKEA coming to the site have circulated over the last few months, although the store hasn’t confirmed whether it will build one of its popular furniture stores in Cary. Documents connecting the mall and the Swedish retailer were filed with Wake County in December.
“I would love to see IKEA out there,” Muir said. “As somebody who works trying to help jobseekers find jobs, it brings a lot of jobs, brings a lot of energy. If you put a major company like IKEA into this parcel, you are going to see all the rest of it kind of fall into place because it’s going to attract investment in a really serious way.”
This is not CBL’s first attempt to revitalize the property.
Mall officials once hoped to replace the Sears property with TopGolf, a golf and entertainment complex. But neighbors’ concerns about noise and lighting prompted TopGolf to announce plans in 2015 to look elsewhere.
“I think that the neighbors have effectively communicated concerns about a use that has a lot of light or a lot of noise,” Muir said. “I’m confident that the mall heard those concerns and is working to address it in a way that solves the problem of the vacancy and the lack of use and kind of the dilapidated nature of what’s going on in that site but can balance the neighbors’ interests a little better.”
A public hearing at an upcoming Cary Town Council meeting will be the next step in the process. It has yet to be scheduled, but likely will not be for a few months, Barron said.
“I’m optimistic,” said councilman Jack Smith after the meeting. “I think it’s the right thing.”
Kathryn Trogdon: 919-829-4845: @KTrogdon