The South Carolina company seeking to develop 90 acres of state property across from Cary Towne Center wants it to become a “vibrant and innovative” development with an emphasis on office space, high-end retail and a Wegmans grocery store.
Columbia Development Group said Tuesday it is partnering with Raleigh office developer Highwoods Properties, which recently built life insurance firm MetLife’s Cary campus, to bring its vision to life. The company hopes the new development spurs activity in the town’s eastern gateway, which has been a focus of Cary leaders and includes the struggling Cary mall.
“Highwoods, along with our other potential partners for the development, are very excited about the opportunity to develop a one-of-a-kind employment center that includes an amenity like Wegmans,” said Abbitt Goodwin Jr., a partner at Columbia’s Raleigh office.
This vision represents a shift in what originally was discussed in January when Columbia submitted a preliminary development sketch plan weighted more heavily toward the proposed Wegmans in the southwest corner of the property.
The original plan showed 200,000 to 300,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space; 300,000 to 600,000 square feet of office space; 300 to 600 apartments; and potentially a 130-room hotel.
Goodwin said the company will soon file a revised plan with the Town of Cary illustrating the new vision.
“The new plan will show an innovative, mixed-use gateway, anchored by a class-A office complex, multi-family housing, new roadway and pedestrian connections to WakeMed Soccer Park and high-end retail spaces, including Wegmans,” he said in an email.
Columbia has contracted to buy the land from the state for $21.15 million.
The Cary Town Council would have to approve rezoning the property before the project could move forward. Columbia Development Group hasn’t submitted a rezoning application to the town.
Revising the plan
The announcement came shortly after the Cary Town Council decided to expedite adopting a plan for the town’s eastern gateway, which includes the state property, signaling the area’s heightened importance amid developer interest.
At a work session Thursday, April 14, the council instructed town staff to move forward with the adoption process for the eastern Cary gateway special planning area. The area covers the land from Cary Towne Center north to Chapel Hill Road and Maynard Road east to Interstate 40. It was drafted as part of Imagine Cary, a process to create a new community plan to guide growth through 2040.
The town visioning process sparked the changes to Columbia’s preliminary development plan, Goodwin said.
“I think that once (council members) see our new plan, I think it’s going to align more closely with what they want,” Goodwin said.
Representatives from the company attended a meeting in January when the council members reviewed the Imagine Cary plan for the eastern gateway and described their vision for the area.
“We have heard the discussions during the Imagine Cary process about the need for this area to be a dynamic, mixed-use center with a sense of place and opportunities to live work and play,” Goodwin said. “We understand that to attract the best talent and jobs, Cary needs a vibrant, office-driven development in this area with places for employees to shop, dine and live.”
The plan comes at a time when Cary Towne Center officials are determining the future of the indoor shopping center across the street, which has been losing anchor tenants and smaller retailers. Sears closed in early 2015, and Macy’s closed earlier this year.
Goodwin said the project across the street could “serve as the catalyst for broader investment in the area and should spark additional investment in nearby properties along the eastern gateway.”
Council members haven’t seen an updated plan for the state property, but some said they’re interested to see how the project has evolved. Mayor Harold Weinbrecht said Tuesday that the town has had positive experiences with Highwoods in the past and he believes the company is a good choice for a partnership.
“We’re looking forward to seeing what they propose,” he said. “At the same time, we are moving our eastern gateway planning forward as fast as possible. It sounds like what they’re saying .... is in line with what we are planning, so it’ll be interesting to see.”
Kathryn Trogdon: 919-460-2608, @KTrogdon