Ben Shivar: Past, Present & Future in Cary

ben-shivar-hoca-cary

Story by Lindsey Chester.

Cary, NC – There’s never a dull moment in Cary.  January 3rd saw the first meeting of the year for the Heart of Cary Association at The Matthews House. Ben Shivar, Cary Town Manager, reviewed where the Town has been in 2012 and where it’s going in 2013. 

Past Investment Pays Off

Ben kicked off with a review of Downtown activity starting with the huge success of the Cary Arts Center that really got Downtown started when it opened in July of 2011. Without the Town’s forethought to proceed with that project, many other projects that followed might never have taken place.

The Business Improvement District (BID) is spurring improvements to downtown facades. Other projects included the renovated and re-opened Amtrak Cary Depot, relocation of the Farmers Market to downtown, and the many new special events that took place this past year including the 7 O’Clock music series.

Getting It Done in 2013

Signage Downtown

The wayfinding signs are sprouting up all around the downtown area, to help visitors locate venues. The first “Cary Downtown” banners went up in the summer, and are now accompanied by smaller pole-based signs highlighting where to find Page-Walker Arts and History Center, and the Herb Young Community Center among others.

Theater Project Moves Forward

The Cary Theater broke ground during the Ole Time Winter Festival on Dec 1, and is currently under construction. Ed Gawf added, “that it is slated to open in October, which in construction talk really means December.”

Along with the theater project comes the much anticipated upgrade of the adjoining streetscape and facades. The old Mitchell Pharmacy building will function as a staging area during the theater construction and then later have the interior renovated to become a retail space.

This prompted a question about parking for the 100 seat theater area. Ben and Ed both mentioned that the theater would be most busy at night when downtown in general is very quiet. Overflow parking will be able to make us e of the United Methodist Church’s parking lot with 200 + spaces.

Jones House

Next Thursday the Town has an official bid opening for the construction and renovation of the Jones House to be converted into the Larry’s Beans coffeehouse. They hope this historic space will fill an important need at the corner opposite the Cary Arts Center.

Groundbreaking For 2 Roundabouts

Later this month (January 23) the town is set to break ground on the construction of 2 roundabouts that will create an enhanced and safer approach to the Downtown area. One will be on the eastern entrance at the intersection of East Durham and East Chatham Streets. The other will be at the confluence of Old Apex and West Chatham. Here are links to the plans.

Looking to the Near Future

Bridge Over Railroad

Much planning was done in the past for a Walker Street overpass in Downtown to connect the North and South parts of town across the railroad tracks. The Town has worked on an alternate and less expensive option, called the Harrison Avenue Railroad Bridge. It creates a bridge at North Harrison which would span one set of railroad tracks at Old Apex Road.

At issue is the fact that the railroad and State DOT are working to close as many “at grade” railroad crossings as possible. Ben said this bridge doesn’t necessarily take the place of the Walker Street project, but may jump the list as a priority.When these crossings are closed, they essentially close off these streets and access to Downtown could be compromised. The Town is working to get this plan moving forward as an excellent option to bring traffic easily into downtown. There may be funding from the state and the railroads if the plan is approved as a less expensive option.

The “Town Opportunity Site”

Much speculation has surfaced about the large swath of land that the town has been buying up in recent years. Discussion has surrounded the fact that many residents wish the entire site would become a central park. Others would like to see the library located there, or a performance space.

The town held a design charette several months ago in which well-known architects came at their own expense to give their thoughts on the best use for this acreage located centrally in our Downtown. They created 5 separate entries, many of which were amazingly similar. All agreed that it was very important to preserve the current open meadow. Ben showed a conceptual rendering that will be used in focus groups and as a basis for further design and ideas. In the concept there are five large entry-ways leading in and a large water feature that cascades down into the site across from the Arts Center. There is room for private development and possibly the library.

Ben emphasized that nothing is final and Town staff will be looking for lots of input from focus groups, citizen advisory boards and Town Council before final designs, bids or any construction occur.

Academy Street Improvements

With the recent Bond referendum approved, $8  million will go towards making Academy Street the signature thoroughfare in Downtown. Improvements will include better sidewalks, streetscape and possibly some signature pavement to distinguish it from Chatham Street. The look and feel will be preserved, but improved. There may be a permanent structure added for the Farmer’s Market combined with an entry to the park.

Private Investment Underway NOW

The Mayton Inn

The boutique hotel, now known as the Mayton Inn on Academy and Park is working on securing their loan and has significantly expanded their site plan to include moving the Mayton House onto the site where the proprietors will live and turning the Waldo Rood House for use as a special suite.

The German Bakery – Annalise

The German Bakery‘s design plan has been approved by staff, so construction should begin soon. The Town will be improving the existing streetscape.

Mixed Use/ Multi-family Development

Plans are also afoot (which Ben did not fully disclose) for a mixed-use/ multifamily development in downtown. Rumors abound that this site could be at the current low-lying orange brick building at the corner of West Chatham and N Harrison.

We Mean Business

Ben emphasized that after years of talk and complaints that nothing was happening in Downtown-  now everyone can see “We mean business!”

Even though the budget year will remain tight, with the passing of the bond referendum, dollars will be flowing downtown for improved street scape and other significant Town investments to make our Downtown a vibrant hub for vistors, residents, families and businesses.

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