Cary library could land in downtown park

akenney@newsobserver.comJune 5, 2013 

— Plans for a rejuvenated downtown Cary could include a new library.

The Cary Town Council on Tuesday said it would like to move the current downtown library onto the town’s “opportunity site,” a 13-acre tract bound by Academy, Park, Walker and Walnut streets.

Wake County plans to upgrade or move the Cary Town Library by 2015, according to Cary staff. And the council wants a larger and fancier-than-average facility on the opportunity site, where a library would likely join a town park and private development.

But there are other options: The library also could stay on its current site or move to the site of the downtown post office, which is likely to close at some point, according to Town Manager Ben Shivar.

On Tuesday, six of seven council members indicated they’d like to put town money toward a “spectacular” project, complete with underground or deck parking, in the town’s crown-jewel park.

The cost of the proposed parking – potentially $20,000 a spot – gave Councilman Jack Smith pause. “I’m kind of in sticker shock,” he said.

But other council members argued for a park-site library. Councilman Don Frantz suggested that commercial development wrapped around the parking deck could defray the cost of the public facility.

At the same meeting, the council seemed to near consensus on the plan that’s meant to redefine and reinvigorate downtown Cary, and town staff also showed sketches of a redesigned Academy Street.

The elected officials want to see restaurants, “signature” landscaping and design, “sophisticated” recreational activities and, potentially, a library on the site, which once was a residential block.

“You want it to be a place where all citizens can congregate to celebrate,” said Doug McRainey, director of parks, recreation and cultural resources.

Shivar compared the park proposal to Raleigh’s Pullen Park, which has drawn huge crowds with its arcing walkways, paddleboats and antique carousel.

Cary leaders are thinking less of a recreational park than a carefully designed common ground filled with “hidden treasures” and framed by what would be the largest buildings in downtown.

“It’s active in a limited way – I don’t know, a very urban way,” said Councilwoman Jennifer Robinson. She said she doesn’t want to see sand volleyball, but something more akin to Parisian ponds for model sailboats.

Shivar suggested the council consider a standout feature, such as botanical gardens, to give the park real draw.

“If you want a regional destination, you’re going to need to build a nice park,” he said. “It’s got to have a feature nobody else has.”

Academy Street, meanwhile, could get an entrance archway at its intersection with Chatham Street, along with sections of brickwork, lighting, new trees and more.

Framing the park

There’s been a vociferous debate this year about just how the park should be divided between development and open space.

Proposals to set aside only a third of the site for parkland drew a vocal critique; the question was whether the taxpayer-funded land purchases should remain in public land, or whether the town should look at the space as a site for economic development.

In all, the town over a decade has spent about $10 million for 11 acres of the block.

The council on Tuesday again debated whether the town had made it clear over the years that it could develop that land, with Councilman Don Frantz pushing for more parkland and Robinson arguing that development was always an option, given the extraordinary cost of the land.

“Our intent was to spur development, and we are a bunch of people who actually don’t know how to do that,” Robinson said. “We ought to be leaning very heavily on those who are experienced.”

It now appears certain that the town will invite private development to the land, but the council hasn’t decided how much green space to include in the park. Council members asked on Tuesday for consultants to sketch park designs between five and eight acres.

The park likely would occupy the center of the space, anchored by a town square near the Cary Arts Center. Robinson asked whether the urban square would attract homeless people, but Frantz reassured her.

Plans and proposals for public and private buildings, meanwhile, are filling the outer edges of the block.

The proposed library likely would sit at the park’s edge, as would The Mayton Inn, a boutique hotel.

Councilman Ed Yerha is a proponent of a “restaurant row” along Walker Street at the site’s northeast corner, while Robinson suggested retail and office at the south end along Walnut Street.

The council said it wasn’t interested, though, in purely residential buildings.

“I’m not a big fan of having residential on this public land, unless it’s part of retail with residential above,” said Councilwoman Lori Bush.

No matter how it takes shape, consultant Brian Jenest of ColeJenest & Stone suggested that the park would inspire major changes in the neighborhood.

“Thirty years from now or 40 years from now, this is going to be an incredible place where people want to live,” Jenest said. “I think there’s going to be tremendous market for beautiful townhouses or beautiful rowhouses.”

Kenney: 919-460-2608 or twitter.com/KenneyOnCary

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