Published: Mar 19, 2013 04:45 PM
Modified: Mar 19, 2013 04:39 PM
CARY - The town has put the buck down for another part of its downtown growth plan.
The local government will pay a contractor $225,000 to renovate the James Jones House to make way for a Raleigh-based coffee roaster.
Once the work is done, Larrys Beans plans to site its first coffee shop, Lawrence Coffee Bar+, at the house at 324 S. Academy St.
Its a prime example of the local governments hands-on approach to downtown: By acting as a landlord, the town has snagged a private business that might have skipped downtown otherwise.
To hook Larrys Beans, or another potential tenant, the towns contractor will peel back aluminum siding to reveal the 123-year-old buildings wooden exterior. The town also will polish up the roof, expand interior rooms, open fireplaces, restore the trim and install a basic lighting package.
Weve worked with Larry Larson (of Larrys Beans) on some of the preliminary layout, said Philip Smith, a town planner.
Focus Design Builders could start work by mid-April and finish within three months.
This is not a town that often bends backward for developers, who usually flock to Cary no matter how much they grouse about sign standards or development rules.
But in the case of downtown, Cary is ready to shepherd even small developers projects to completion.
In the case of the Jones House, the town paid $600,000 in 2011 to buy the home. Built circa 1890, its historic character, proximity to the Cary Arts Center, its long-standing vacant condition and its current state of disrepair all made it a high priority for restoration and reuse, town staff reported.
Staff expect to rent the building at between $2,000 and $2,500 per month.
Such intimate involvement in a private project is relatively rare for governments. Durhams downtown revitalization, for example, was built largely on government spending on more-typical projects, such as an arts center and parking lots.
We have never asked the city to develop property to lease out to the private sector. We want that property on the tax rolls of the community, the private tax rolls, said William Kalkhof, president of Downtown Durham Inc.
But Cary and Durham face markedly different scenarios, he noted. Downtown Durham has a much larger stock of historic buildings that could be renovated, as well as a larger population from which to draw.
Cary has been trying for a decade to find a spark downtown, but began its more aggressive approach when it hired Ed Gawf as a downtown development manager in 2011. Gawfs job is to make the rounds and grease the tracks for downtown projects.
Gawf hopes that the government-as-landlord approach isnt permanent. A place like a coffee shop, along with the boutique hotel planned down the street, could help colonize the area, showing other businesses that downtown Carys a feasible market.
That said, its not guaranteed that Lawrence Coffee Bar+ will be the tenant for the historic house. The Town Council has approved a lease, but the potential tenant and the government havent signed off.
Larrys Beans remains the primary target, but town staff have explored other options, Smith said.
For his part, Kalkhof believes Carys strategy of nurturing businesses could work.
As long as it is a community priority, with your elected officials and in the private sector, he said, the trajectory will always be forward.