Southwest Wake News

Veridea is focus of Apex economic development plans

It’s going to take millions of dollars in new roads and utilities, much of it potentially funded by the state and local governments, to get Veridea off the ground.

But once the 1,000-acre development planned for southern Apex takes off, officials said it could be the boost that sends Apex to another level as a town.

Veridea’s website estimates it will create 30,000 jobs and add $6 billion to the local tax base.

The project’s developer, Tom Hendrickson, spoke at the Apex Town Council retreat earlier this month. He said Veridea will eventually be “the premier retail site for the region, as well as the premier economic development site, with the office buildings.”

The plans include 10 million square feet of office space, 3.5 million square feet of retail and mixed-use space, 2 million square feet set aside for advanced manufacturing, and 4,000 homes, townhomes or apartments.

No plan can please everyone entirely, and Veridea already faces questions from council members. Town Council member Bill Jensen, for example, said he would like the plan to be entirely commercial, with no new homes.

Nicole Dozier, another council member, said she would like only like to see the kind of high-end retail that would make Veridea a tourist destination.

Hendrickson said there would be some of high-end retail as well as the typical grocery and big-box stores that suburban areas typically draw. He compared his vision to North Hills in Raleigh, where apartments, grocery stores, bars and small businesses all coexist in trendy towers and shopping centers.

Before the private sector can do much, though, Hendrickson said he is waiting on help from the state and the town of Apex to get roads, water and sewer to the site.

Of particular concern is N.C. 55, which cuts through what is planned to be one of Veridea’s most densely developed areas. The road already is heavily congested, and a mixed-used development such as Veridea could bring thousands of extra cars at all times of the day.

“Obviously (N.C. 55) has been, is and will be an issue, in some scenario, throughout the history of Apex,” Hendrickson said.

He said he plans to ask for upgrades at various intersections – particularly two on N.C. 55, at U.S. 1 and at the planned extension of N.C. 540 – which will cost millions of dollars.

“Can we put any pressure on the Department of Transportation?” to help, Jensen asked.

Mayor Pro Tem Gene Schulze said the town is fortunate that former Apex Mayor Keith Weatherly works as a lobbyist for the DOT. Weatherly also led Apex’s transportation committee and is the former chief of staff to Paul “Skip” Stam, an Apex Republican and N.C. House Speaker Pro Tem.

Hendrickson said he missed the deadline to apply for 2015 road funding, citing internal company issues, but will try again for the 2016 cycle.

Economic development efforts

Veridea, if built, could end up as the biggest economic development victory in Apex’s history. But town officials aren’t putting all their eggs in that 1,000-acre basket.

The Town of Apex hired its first economic developer about seven months ago. Joanna Helms runs a one-woman office, with the singular goal of attracting more businesses to a town that’s mostly a bedroom community for jobs to the east and north.

In her first months on the job, Helms said, she made 140 new contacts in the area in various public and private roles. She also gave about a dozen tours of Apex to real estate brokers and developers and even met with two foreign investors – from Europe and Asia – who were interested in Apex.

Helms said she has had more than 30 formal and informal inquiries, whether it’s companies seeking information on the town’s incentives policy, entrepreneurs asking about the local restaurant scene, or college students doing research for a paper.

“I think we are off to a good start,” Helms said. “And I think from here, we just take ourselves to the next level.”

She said while the foreign visitors and other requests are exciting, she also hopes to do more to make sure the town’s current businesses are happy and thriving.

“Seventy to 80 percent of growth comes from existing industry,” Helms said.

She’s updating the town’s development website while also putting together a list of existing businesses, meeting with local business leaders and studying the town’s 2030 long-range plan and what kind of development best fits into that plan.

Mayor Bill Sutton told her having “shovel-ready” sites, which can be constructed quickly and might also draw federal stimulus funds, could help the town draw businesses.

Helms said she has been meeting with large property owners in the area to discuss such projects.

Doran: 919-460-2604; Twitter: @will_doran