Cary leaders have long envisioned a downtown that people would want to visit.
Now that their vision is slowly coming to life, they want to offer visitors more places to park.
After a long debate, the Cary Town Council voted 5-1 Thursday to approve a $630,000 plan to demolish a decrepit building that it owns at 212 E. Cedar St. to build a 29-space public parking lot. Don Frantz voted against the project.
Council members acknowledged that the price of the project is steep for the number of parking spaces it creates. But they said there’s a need to expand parking options downtown, given the increasing amount of activity there, including the upcoming redevelopment of Midtown Square and the addition of a brewery and office/retail building.
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The lot is located a 1/4 mile east of the intersection of Academy and Chatham streets, known as the epicenter of downtown.
“You like to keep things in that range, from a walking standpoint,” said Ted Boyd, Cary’s downtown manager.
But, because of the cost, town staff wouldn’t have recommended the parking lot at this time if it weren’t for the Midtown Square project, he said.
As part of the Midtown Square project, Northwoods Associates LP plans to renovate a warehouse at that address so Bond Brothers Beer Company can open a brewery and bar in the space next spring.
The parking lot also is likely to be used by visitors of retail shops and offices in the $5 million, 25,000-square-foot mixed-use building on East Chatham Street where the Flower Cupboard has been located.
The town bought the half-acre lot in 2011 for $240,000 so that it could some day extend Walker Street northward to Chapel Hill Road. The parking project would meet a need for additional parking options without interfering with those plans, Boyd said.
Councilman Jack Smith said the town shouldn’t waver on its commitment to downtown Cary at a time when the private sector is planning to invest millions. It’s something downtown residents and business owners see and appreciate, he said.
“It’s another stepping stone in our improvements downtown,” Smith said. “I wish it was a more compelling case financially.”
Frantz cited the high project cost in voting against the plan. The money would be better spent on a campaign that better directs visitors to existing parking, he said, such as the lot on Waldo Street in front of First United Methodist Church.
“Half the (parking) problem is because nobody knows where it is,” Frantz said.
Councilwomen Lori Bush and Jennifer Robinson seemed unsure of the project, too, until Boyd explained that the lot couldn’t be used for anything else because of its condition and location.
“It does energize an area,” Bush said.
The Cary theater, Pharmacy Bottle and Beverage and Crosstown Pub & Grill – down the road from the lot on East Chatham Street – are also likely to benefit. Construction will likely take less than a year once it starts, Boyd said, but a start date remains unclear.
The council also voted unanimously to save money on a downtown park by slightly altering its designs.
The town is planning to build a 7-acre park at the eastern corner of Academy Street and Dry Avenue. Cary budgeted about $3.8 million for the first phase of the park – which will include a fountain, outdoor performance space, a lawn area, garden areas and public art – but initial bids to build the project estimated that Cary’s plan would cost at least $4.6 million.
The council agreed Thursday to save roughly $711,500 from the project by using brick instead of precast concrete panels on several of the walls inside the planned plaza and cutting other miscellaneous items.
Town staff brought more than $1.06 million in potential savings to the council, but council members said they didn’t want to diminish the quality of a park they’ve been planning for years.
“It’s an investment in downtown Cary … and a final commitment to all those who have waited for this downtown park,” Bush said.
The project will go back out to bid by mid-July.