Southwest Wake News

Fuquay-Varina fills downtown development role with former resident

hgargan@newsobserver.com

Towns growing as quickly as Fuquay-Varina typically hire new staff every year – police, firefighters, building inspectors – to manage the increased demand on town resources associated with new residents.

But Casey Verburg, the town’s new downtown development coordinator, was hired to help the town manage demand it hopes to see materialize in the years to come.

Verburg, 30, has been hired in the new position to be a go-between the town and the various businesses and other downtown stakeholders as Fuquay-Varina tries to make its downtown district a destination. Her starting salary of $55,000 was approved as part of the town’s most recent budget ordinance, adopted in June.

“When you walk through a downtown, it sets the expectation for the rest of the community,” Verburg said. “Being able to develop a downtown will help Fuquay show the potential for growth that it has.”

Verburg grew up in Maryland but lived in Fuquay-Varina for three years while working for Wake County Economic Development, which is part of why she said she was interested in the position.

“I lived here for a reason, and I loved it then,” Verburg said. “I knew what the downtown looked like when I lived here, and I’ve seen how far it’s come. That got me super-excited to be a part of this.”

She graduated from East Carolina University in 2007 with a degree in communications. Verburg’s time with Wake County Economic Development lasted until 2013, when she returned to Greenville to get her master’s degree in public administration and work on a variety of economic development projects.

As downtown development coordinator, she will also administer the town’s Main Street program, a responsibility that rested with the Fuquay-Varina Downtown Revitalization Association, a private nonprofit, until last month.

Her supervisor, Director of Economic Development Jim Seymour, said Verburg’s role as liaison between public and private interests will be an important one. The town’s desire to redevelop its downtown requires long-term, big-picture thinking, each step of which has to be communicated to the downtown’s many moving parts – the Chamber of Commerce, the Downtown Revitalization Association, and all their constituent businesses, to name a few.

Through a recently approved $3.1 million arts center and its partnership with the UNC School of Government’s Development Finance Initiative, the town has shown eagerness to invest in the downtown district. But balancing the various interests at play in such an expansive public-private partnership requires a deft touch and the ability to listen, Seymour said.

“Casey’s job is to not only work with us on the data, but also communicating what the downtown business merchants want as far as the mix of businesses that would go into a mixed-use project,” Seymour said. “We really want the downtown business merchants to be a major player in helping us shape what a mixed-use project looks like.”

Fuquay-Varina’s challenge has been directing and managing its growth rather than trying to inspire it in the first place. Seymour said the town’s studies have shown a demand for about 350 apartment units, 10,000 square feet of office spare and about 75,000 square feet of retail space. The key will be to make sure the downtown benefits from some or most of that demand instead of having it sprawl outward.

Along similar lines, Seymour said, his development staff keeps an eye on what projects other towns are approving so the downtown’s limited available space can be used to Fuquay-Varina’s comparative advantage.

“Downtown is a lifestyle. Downtown is a culture, and everybody in Fuquay-Varina loves being part of downtown,” Seymour said. “Talking to Casey, that’s what attracted her to apply for the position, and that’s what other candidates said in their interviews. They love how businesses talk so highly of downtown.”

Gargan: 919-460-2604; @hgargan

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