Cary News

Cary readies downtown block for demolition

One of the town’s oldest residential blocks is one step closer to a transformation. A nearly final land buy puts the town government in control of most of a 13-acre downtown tract along Academy Street where the town plans to trade residences and back lots for a crown jewel park.

The town’s latest acquisition is a pair of houses built in 1909 and 1955, which the local government plans to buy and demolish at a cost of about $3 million.

When the deal is completed the town will own all but a fraction of the area bounded by Academy, Park, Walker and Walnut streets. With the latest purchase Cary will have spent about $9.2 million on land for the project.

“We will have acquired the bulk of the town site,” said downtown manager Ed Gawf. “That gives us the ability to be creative in the planning of the park and other uses.”

The town will clear most all of the land on the block, including the century-old home at Walnut Street it just bought, but plans call for the preservation of two historic-designated structures on Academy Street.

In place of the current buildings, the town and county is considering paths, open space, a library, a farmers market andeven high-density private development.

But the town doesn’t yet have all the land it wants. Four property owners have not agreed to sell two residences and two condominiums, which occupy about an acre.

Gawf couldn’t say where negotiations were headed. But because the last properties sit at the edge of the block, he said, the town could design the park around them.

“We’re willing buyers, but there needs to be willing sellers,” Gawf said. He couldn’t comment whether the town would use the legal power of condemnation to forcibly purchase any of the remaining land. The town has not used the power so far on the downtown park project.

“That’s a council decision,” Gawf said.

The town has used cash reserves to fund much of the park, but it likely won’t proceed without a tax hike and an infusion of debt for the town. For example, the town will take $2 million from its cash reserves to fund the latest purchase. With the deal, the town estimates it will run a $21.4million deficit this year, mostly to pay for new construction..

That’s not a sustainable rate, staff say. To afford the park in full, the town would take on new debt. Cary staff will ask the federal government for a $2.1 million low-interest loan from the federal government, and voters will be asked to approve $2 million of debt for the project as part of an $80 million bond referendum this fall. The council plans a 4-cent tax hike which will be phased in beginning next June to pay for the debt.