As Fuquay-Varina continues to grow, many areas of town are changing – both in appearance and in vibe.
As old buildings are razed on Main Street to make way for new infill, and road improvement projects get set to help alleviate traffic congestion, eyes are turning to Fuquay-Varina’s two downtown districts, which haven’t seen much change in the last 10 years or so.
Since the construction of Varina Station, the downtown districts have remained much the same, with only a few notable shifts – such as the renovation of the old Belk building into a theater, Mark Doble’s projects surrounding the Aviator Brewing Company brand, and the transformation of the old Variety Wholesalers warehouse into a new, modernized storage facility between Broad Street and Wake Chapel Rd.
Behind the scenes, however, town leaders have been developing a strategy for development of the two downtown districts, D1 and D2. In 2014, the town adopted its first ever official economic development plan and published the Fuquay-Varina Economic Development Strategy 2015-2025, which included recruiting mixed-use development to both downtown districts. Although comprehensive enough to include all areas of town in a wide-reaching plan for attracting business and industry over the next 10 years, the two downtown districts were fully incorporated in that strategy and work on their unique needs has continued since the adoption of that document.
In early 2015, the town’s economic development department partenered with the Development Finance Initiative (DFI) to perform a market analysis and assessment of the downtown core. The results of that analysis showed that there is significant demand for new and additional residential, commercial, and retail development opportunities in both downtown districts – specifically using a mixed-use development model.
As a result of the market analysis, the town has moved forward and begun to undertake the necessary pre-development, site-specific services that are a the first step in launching mixed-use development projects that will transform our downtown core into a vibrant, walkable and livable downtown. The end result will be the creation of economic opportunity for existing and future businesses and residents by using the results of the market research to leverage and encourage private sector infill development.
In mid-2015, the town purchased STARS Theater and Arts Center on E. Vance Street in the downtown Fuquay-Varina retail district. Town leaders see the now-named Fuquay-Varina Arts Center as a focal point in their plans for developing an arts district in the downtown core. Although initial plans only included renovating the existing arts space in the building for town resident use, the town recently approved the construction of a 400-seat theater on the site, utilizing the land behind the theater that is currently a parking lot. Within the next two years, this project will have a significant impact on the economic development of the Fuquay retail district.
Throughout the spring and early summer of 2016, the Town began meeting with citizens and businesses to discuss the types of uses they would like to see in their downtown districts. Over the next several months, the Town intends to identify key development and redevelopment sites and parcels for project sites and determine the scope and scale of the investment necessary to produce a catalyst downtown mixed-use project.
“Our Town Board understands the importance of building public-private partnerships throughout the development community,” shares Jim Seymour, the town’s economic development director. “Identifying downtown infill development as a major initiative in the town’s economic development strategy, and then providing the financial resources needed to attract new development has demonstrated to the private sector development community that Fuquay-Varina wants to be the regional leader in downtown development.”
As a new player in the mixed-use development landscape, Fuquay-Varina is positioning itself to attract the kind of investment and development that will transform the two downtown districts into retail and residential spaces that attract young professionals and visitors to southwestern Wake County. Part of that positioning is addressing issues of concern among current stakeholders as well.
As part of the Town’s new focus on pre-development services, the town recently hired a professional parking consultant engineer who will help the town identify and implement parking policies and practices that will support the town’s efforts to achieve its overall downtown parking goals. Current demand for parking has already exceeded what is available, and new mixed-use infill projects will only increase that demand. This new consultant will be working on solutions designed to meet the current demand for increased parking and support future mixed-use development projects. A final report will be available by early 2017.
In addition to pre-development services, the town further emphasized its commitment to developing the downtown districts by recently authorizing the creation of a full-time Downtown Development Coordinator position in the economic development office. The purpose of this new position will be to help coordinate the town’s downtown development efforts. After a statewide search, Ms. Casey Verburg was hired (and started work) in July and will serve as a liaison between the town and downtown business merchants as the town coordinates existing and future development projects in the two downtown districts. The Town Board created this new position because town leaders understand how important the development of Fuquay-Varina’s downtown is to the entire community.
Verburg was hired because of her significant experience in downtown development in other venues. Verburg has worked as a project manager in the City of Greenville’s economic development department and as a researcher and project manager with Wake County Economic Development. She is a graduate of East Carolina University with an undergraduate degree in communications and a master’s degree in public administration. “I consider myself fortunate to be hired for this new position,” shared Verburg. “As an economic developer, you always want to be part of a community that has big ideas and a great business community who wants to support those big ideas.”
More information about the town’s plans for its two downtown retail districts will be made available as progress continues to attract mixed-use infill developers. Existing property owners will also be encouraged to partner with the town on projects that improve the condition of what’s already there and blend it with new construction as it develops. For more information about downtown development or economic development strategy in general, contact Jim Seymour or Casey Verburg at (919) 552-1400.