With residents flocking to a rapidly evolving Knightdale Station Park, town leaders have grand plans for the next phase of the project, including a downtown development concept that recalls the town as it was circa 1910.
Knightdale Planning Director Chris Hills said during the town’s retreat on Feb. 7 that the idea is to create a mixed-use gathering place along First Avenue near the upcoming Knightdale Station neighborhood that would include increased on-street parking, an “old downtown feel” and modern amenities. He said they already have a dance studio lined up and interested.
Christine Hilt of Cary-based CLH Design, which has assisted with other parts of the park concept, presented her vision for the town’s development to Mayor Russell Killen and other council members.
Hilt pushed the need for a “strong street presence” along Wilder Nursery Trail to support the retail stores and restaurants that would fill the lot along First Avenue.
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Buildings would be one- and two-story, though most would keep a two-story appearance. They would incorporate 900 square feet of residential space, specifically marketed toward millennials who want to live in a downtown setting.
Parking would be dramatically increased, with more than 100 internal and street spaces surrounding the area.
“We are considering a work, play, live model,” Hilt said. “Nights and weekends are critical. It’s very critical that doors don’t close at 5 p.m.”
The downtown vision
Town spokesman Brian Bowman said by email that the concept adds to the current downtown district along First Avenue.
“It adds to the downtown district rather than moving it. We’ve invested quite a lot into the district and believe this will enhance the entire stretch of First Avenue and Old Town. The building designs would complement what we already have in place,“ Bowman said.
Other concepts that could be brought to downtown were outdoor dining spaces along the south side of Wilder Nursery Trail, linking the greenway to the park and First Avenue and creative lighting for evening activity.
An arboretum was emphasized by staff, and has evolved into the idea of a “deconstructed arboretum” which would be more spread out around Knightdale Station Park. It would complement the various businesses and activities in the area and support events, as well as be easier to maintain.
Killen suggested it could even be a home for public art displays.
Bringing a splash pad for summer and adding some more picnic shelters was also suggested.
“This could happen, it’s not a pie-in-the-sky concept,” Killen said, pointing to the proven success of Knightdale Station Park. “I haven’t had this feeling since we talked about the park. This is the next big stuff.”
Other benefits and ideas mentioned by the council include public high-speed fiber, incorporating central Knightdale organizations and marketing to high school students and families with young children.
“There’s not a lot of investment for us,” said Councilman Dustin Tripp. “I think it’s a good plan.”
Councilman James Roberson asked about a timeline. Killen eagerly responded that they would love to move forward as soon as he could secure partnerships and a developer, and encouraged staff to maintain flexibility in the capital budget for the project.
“I’ll start a road tour as soon as I get this Powerpoint,” he said.
Councilman Mike Chalk seemed to summarize the general feeling.
“This makes more sense than anything I’ve ever seen,” he said.