Town leaders envision a downtown where residents can stroll in the park, check out a library book, dine in restaurants and shop at stores.
But while Morrisville figures out the logistics for its future town center, a major shopping center has stepped in to the fill the void.
Park West Village – with retail giants such as Target and Gander Mountain, restaurants, a movie theater and upscale apartments – has become a community destination in Morrisville.
Since it opened in 2011 off of Morrisville Parkway, Park West Village has branded itself as a gathering place, hosting free family-friendly events. During Christmas, it hosted a 3D light show.
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This spring, the retail center is continuing its LIVE in The District Music Series on Thursday evenings.
Attendance has increased for the concerts. The fall concert series drew about 500 to 700 people a week, said David Brunner, assistant project director for CASTO, the developer of Park West Village.
The spring concerts are drawing more than 1,000 people, he said.
“We asked what can we do to draw people to the center, make it a community gathering place and something that is free to the community,” Brunner said. “If you look at Waverly Place in Cary and North Hills (in Raleigh), they have areas to gather.”
Drawing people to Park West isn’t just about bringing in more customers, Brunner said; it’s about creating a destination.
“Some of the people who are coming are not necessarily going shopping while they are here, but are just coming out to have fun,” he said.
“Part of the development as we envisioned it was to always have some sort of community feature. Our goal is to have something every month, if not every week.”
Businesses are taking advantage of Park West’s popularity. Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina’s Triangle Sales Center hosts a running club that meets at the plaza once a week. Ruckus Pizza recently held a St. Baldrick’s Foundation charity event there.
By fall 2015, Park West developers plan to build the next phase of the project. Plans for “The District” call for three- to four-story buildings with retail stores on the bottom and apartments above.
Competition for downtown?
Some members of the Morrisville Town Council say they worry a future downtown would simply duplicate what Park West already has.
“One complaint we’re hearing from retailers (is) we’ve got a lot of retail,” Councilman Steve Rao said during the council’s planning retreat earlier this year. “Park West is emerging, then you’ve got Grace Park. ... What could be that unique draw that we could have there that we know could do well?”
The town center plan includes some amenities that don’t exist at Park West, including a farmers market, library and recreation center. Town leaders hope the downtown area will also include some retail, restaurants, housing and office space.
Morrisville owns about 10 acres off Jeremiah Street, but it needs another 12 acres to make the town center plan a reality. Most of the remaining property owners are unwilling to sell.
The Town Council will meet May 13 to decide whether to consider a new site off of Morrisville-Carpenter Road.
Brunner sees Park West Village as a supplement to Morrisville’s future downtown, not a rival.
“I don’t seen them competing with us,” he said. “I don’t see us competing with them. I think they plan on being more of a civic center. Our density compared to what they are proposing is very different.”
Once all phases are complete, Park West will have about 700,000 square feet of residential and commercial space across 100 acres.
Michael Roberts, who lives in Morrisville, said the town needs a downtown area to help create a sense of identity.
“What do we as citizens want our identity to be?” he asked. “Is it simply our location? Is it (the) heart of the Triangle? East meets west? History? What is our elevator speech to (get people) to live, work, play and visit?”