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In Cary, no shortage of opinions about IKEA, Cary Towne Center

Not everyone in Cary thinks IKEA was the best fit for Cary Towne Center.
Not everyone in Cary thinks IKEA was the best fit for Cary Towne Center. IKEA

Folks who live in and around Cary have had plenty to say online about IKEA — its sudden withdrawal from Cary and what that means for redevelopment of Cary Towne Center.

Much of the conversation has taken place in a series of threads on the Cary Downtown Facebook page.

"So disappointed," Kristina Von Born wrote recently of IKEA's decision not to anchor a redeveloped Cary Towne Center, or CTC for short. "They were the only hope for CTC."

"I can't imagine anything short of IKEA being able to save that place," added Grady Ormond. "It is so depressing."

But not everyone in Cary thinks a 380,000-square-foot IKEA would have been best for Cary or Cary Towne Center.

"I think it is a blessing in disguise," said Michelle Smith. "The traffic through there can already get congested, and I think it would just further serve to make downtown Cary an island that people would drive around."

In withdrawing from Cary, IKEA said it was moving away from large suburban stores in favor of online sales and smaller stores in urban centers.

In which case, it's better for IKEA to disappoint Cary now rather than later, Smith said. "Ultimately, if they are changing their business model, it is because they are shifting away from something that used to work but probably isn't anymore," she said. "Meaning, we wouldn't want a huge retail center that ultimately failed, not because of anything on the Triangle or Cary, but because of changing consumer demands."

Terry Neave DoByne said she had nothing against IKEA, but like Smith, she worried about traffic. "Hundreds of students walk and drive in that area during lunch and before and after school," she said.

Cary High School is just across the road from Cary Towne Center.

"We as a community have a hard enough time with the crosswalk by the school now," DoByne said. "Adding a few thousand more people a day to the area could be treacherous."

But shopping centers exist to generate traffic, said Mark Neill, who didn't think IKEA would bring that much additional traffic to the roads near Cary High School. "Anyone going to IKEA from outside of Cary wouldn't be driving on Walnut and Maynard anyway," he said. "They'd be taking Cary Towne Boulevard directly off of I-40 and directly to the mall."

Others commenters wondered whether IKEA was the right anchor for a redeveloped Cary Towne Center.

"It's really sad that Topgolf was not allowed to build a location at Cary Towne Center," Drew Senko said. "I've played Topgolf in other cities, and they generate a lot of business. That was a missed opportunity."

Jeff Hoffert liked Topfgolf too — but in the right spot. "It is too bad Topgolf couldn't be on the Dillard and Belk end of the mall," he said. "That would have moved them pretty far away from the neighborhood and reduced the concerns about noise and light. The Macy's and Sears ends could be redeveloped into a buffer zone with low-rise buildings between Topgolf and the neighborhood."

Topgolf, whose ownership group includes new Carolina Hurricanes owner Tom Dundon, looked at Cary Towne Center but backed away amid opposition from nearby residents.

Other commenters in the Facebook threads wondered if Cary Towne Center needed a large anchor store like IKEA.

"A focus on a more diverse group of businesses and uses will be better for the community as a whole than a single large anchor," wrote Rusty Long. "I'd love to see mixed use of the type that you see in North Hills."

North Hills, with its mix of shops, restaurants and housing, is mostly what the owners of Cary Towne Center have in mind in redeveloping the 39-year-old indoor mall. Their original plan was to raze the former Sears and Macy's buildings to make room for IKEA, which was to be the first step in the mall's redevelopment. Eventually, most of the original mall would come down, replaced by multiple buildings with retail, dining and housing.

That remains the plan, according to mall owner CBL & Associates Properties. The only difference is that the company will have to find tenants to replace IKEA.

The plan to completely make over the shopping mall won't get an argument from folks who joined the Cary Downtown threads, which spawned the hashtag #bulldozectc.

"CTC will need to get redeveloped in the style of North Hills," said Hoffert. "Indoor malls are dying."

Katie Brooke added that it's time for Cary and Cary Towne Center to move on from IKEA, though not necessarily from furniture. "Let's try to find some competitors to IKEA (not the generic, well-known furniture stores found in every city) and bring them here," she said. "I'd rather have IKEA, but let's try to make lemonade from lemons the best we can."

Across the road from Cary Towne Boulevard, Columbia Development plans to build Fenton, a mixed-use development with a Wegmans grocery store, retail shops, housing and two hotels.

But Fenton would go up on vacant land that some in Cary would just as soon remain vacant.

"I hope they do bulldoze (Cary Towne Center) and redevelop before they do anything to that lovely wooded acreage on the opposite side of Cary Towne Boulevard," Ormond said.

But Fenton and the Cary Towne Center redevelopment are projects by different developers, and the folks behind Fenton have said their mixed-use development will go on without IKEA being across the road.

"It's coming, and unfortunately, it will clear of huge chunk of beautiful forest," Gina Wilson wrote in one of the Cary Downtown threads.

Scott Bolejack: 919-829-4629, @ScottBolejack
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