Adding residences to the second floors of the buildings that line South White Street may be one way to bring more people to an area with a limited number of buildings, said Lisa Hayes, downtown development director for Wake Forest.
Upper-floor housing would be a boon to smaller downtown shops, Hayes told the Board of Commissioners on Tuesday.
“Those people are going to use the restaurants, they’re going to go in the hardware store, they have utilities, they need a telephone,” she said. “They may use service providers, the auto shop down the street, the legal professionals.”
Hayes said converting some second-floor spaces could be difficult, but it’s an idea worth exploring with downtown property owners.
“We want life on the street, we want people down here at night, and part of that is having viable living space in the downtown district,” she said.
Mayor Vivian Jones said the board would want to hear about any code changes or updates that would be needed to make upper-floor housing a possibility.
“I think that is a very valuable thing for our downtown, and we need to address things if they come up,” she said.
More broadly, Hayes said that further development downtown isn’t hindered by any lack of interest from potential business owners but by a limited number of buildings in the small area of South White Street that most people consider downtown.
As more infill development pushes the boundaries of what’s traditionally thought of as downtown, Hayes said she expects people’s definition of downtown to expand as well. That perception would mean a more expansive area that potential businesses find attractive.
“I think you’ll see a lot of development off of South White Street and beyond,” she said.
Downtown Wake Forest is part of the North Carolina Main Street program, which encourages economic development alongside historic preservation.
A report released earlier this year by the N.C. Department of Commerce said that since the program began more than three decades ago, more than 18,000 jobs have been created in the 57 participating Main Street communities.
Hayes said that for the year ending in July, Wake Forest had a net job gain of 20 positions and a net business gain of six.
Among the major factors in downtown development last year were the creation of the Wake Forest Renaissance Centre, the town’s cultural arts and performance venue, and the decision by Wake Electric Membership Corporation to build a new office building in a vacant lot.
New public investment totaled $1.9 million, and private investment was $6.2 million for the past year, Hayes said.