Restaurants and breweries have started to define downtown Fuquay-Varina, but the area still has a number of dirt lots and crumbling, empty buildings.
Now town leaders want to attract a developer to turn those properties into new stores, offices and apartments, while keeping the rustic charm intact.
“We want to bring back what most downtowns were like 50, 60 years ago, with people living above stores on the bottom floor,” said Jim Seymour, Fuquay-Varina’s director of economic development. “We want to have that livable, walkable downtown.”
The town held a public meeting Wednesday to gauge interest from residents and business owners. So far, Seymour said, the response has been overwhelmingly positive.
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Fuquay-Varina’s Board of Commissioners voted earlier this year to maintain options on several vacant properties valued at about $1.15 million near the intersection of Academy and Main Streets, which could be parceled together and sold to a developer.
Officials were coy at first about the town’s intentions for the properties, but now it’s clear they want to aggressively search for a private developer to take on a transformative mixed-use project.
Seymour said the town is hoping for a series of buildings between four and six stories tall, with storefronts on the bottom floor and offices and apartments above.
Market studies completed in conjunction with the Development Finance Initiative, a consulting group run by the UNC School of Government, showed demand for about 250 apartments, 25,000 square feet of retail and 15,000 square feet of office space.
Conceptual designs provided by DFI include a parking deck in the center of a city block of buildings fronting the streets on all four sides.
“We would look to work with a developer that would be willing to implement building, design and material that would be complementary to what currently exists in our downtown,” Town Manager Adam Mitchell said. “I don’t see a 10-story glass highrise structure in our downtown. We would hope it would use materials consistent with what’s there.”
All this activity – the market studies, the public open houses, the real estate negotiations – is meant to entice developers and reassure them that Fuquay-Varina’s businesses, residents and public officials support the model.
It’s a redevelopment tactic similar to the one pursued by Morrisville, which is also working with DFI to turn public investment into a developer-ready downtown project.
“I can tell you that we are on the fast track with design and having discussions, because we want to make sure we strike while the market is hot,” Seymour said. “Investors are very much excited about our growth, so we’re trying to keep up with something we have no control over, which is the local and regional economy. By the end of this calendar year, we’ll have an idea of when we’ll be putting a shovel in the ground.”
Gargan: 919-829-4807; @hgargan