For a city that has nearly quadrupled its population since 1970, a lot of things have changed about Raleigh, including the names used to describe its many districts.
Here’s a new one: Midtown East.
That’s how developer Regency Centers is positioning its Wegmans-anchored property on Wake Forest Road. In its eyes, the Wake Forest Road corridor has the chance to be the next boom area for the Midtown neighborhood, said Chris Widmayer, vice president of investments for Regency Centers’ Raleigh office. Regency Centers is developing the project with a local limited liability company called ITB Holdings.
“There are a couple of large landlords over here, and for us this is the last area inside the Beltline, and in the Midtown neighborhood, where there are still large tracts to be redeveloped,” Widmayer said. “We see this area transforming over the next five, 10, 20 years.”
Midtown itself is only a recent rebranding of the area north of downtown. For many, it is still referred to only as North Hills.
Regency Centers — which also owns the Trader Joe’s-anchored Holly Park Shopping Center, which is adjacent to Midtown East — hopes the two centers can help reinvigorate the eastern part of the area. The old Alcatel property at 1200 Wake Towne Drive, which Regency bought for $12.9 million last year, has sat empty since 2002.
Much of that property is now becoming the Midtown East shopping center, including the 120,000-square-foot Wegmans and its 700-car parking deck, plus 21 additional store fronts.
Loden Properties is in negotiation to buy the northeast corner of the property to possibly build a hotel, Widmayer said.
The shopping center project is moving along quickly and will likely be finished next fall.
Besides Wegmans, Regency Centers has already signed several tenants:
▪ Club Pilates, a national chain of Pilates studios
▪ Maple Street Biscuit Company, a Florida restaurant chain
▪ Cava, a Mediterranean restaurant from Washington, D.C. (Cava also will be going into the Regency-owned Village Plaza shopping center in Chapel Hill.)
▪ Salon del Sol, an Aveda-owned salon chain
▪ Bella Lifestyle, a nail salon
Widmayer said Regency is in negotiations with eight other tenants, and if they sign, the center will be 86 percent leased. He added that they are being careful about what tenants they negotiate with.
“Regency also own Cameron Village,” he said. “We are not trying to be Cameron Village, North Hills or Crabtree. We are trying to complement them.”
Tara Robbins, who runs the Midtown Raleigh Alliance, said the Midtown moniker really started sticking in the mid-2000s. Her organization, which is supported by property owners in the area, was founded in 2011.
She said Midtown is now considered the two-mile radius around North Hills — which, she said, makes Midtown East a logical name for the Wake Forest Road corridor.
That area, she said, has been underdeveloped and is ripe for transformation. The nearby Lifetime Fitness property could be the next big redevelopment, she said.
“Raleigh is lucky to have these little unique pockets like Midtown,” she said, which can attract great brands and retailers.
But for many long-term Raleigh residents, the Midtown area will always just be called North Hills. A post on the “You Know You Grew Up In Raleigh….” Facebook page, a home for people born in a much smaller Raleigh, received a lot of comments wary of the Midtown moniker.
For Raleigh resident Cathy Hurlocker Evans, who posted on the thread, she doesn’t care what they call the area. She’s just glad to see that someone is doing something with the former Alcatel property, where her dad used to work.
“It was sad to see the property sitting vacant for so long,” she said. “So I was very happy to see they were finally doing something with it.”
To Evans, the Midtown name works because the North Hills area has been so radically transformed over the past 15 years.
“I don’t have any issue with the name ‘Midtown‘ being applied to North Hills because the nature of the area dramatically changed,” she said. “... So while I still think of the mall and immediate area as ‘North Hills’ what makes it ‘Midtown’ is the concerts on the green, the music series, the restaurants and the mixed-use nature of the area.”
She hopes the development can make it another community destination, rather than just another place to buy groceries.
Widmayer, from Regency, hopes so, too.
"The idea is we want this to be a place that you come on a daily basis to meet the needs of your life," he said.