Cary’s downtown restoration moves ahead without Larry’s Beans

akenney@newsobserver.comJune 10, 2013 

Cary is expecting to spend about $225,000 to renovate the Jones-Foy House, one of the oldest downtown buildings. But it won't house Lawrence Coffee Bar+, as originally planned.

THE CARY NEWS FILE PHOTO

— Restoration work on the historic Jones-Foy House begins in the next few weeks, but the town-owned building no longer has a sure tenant.

The town of Cary bought the lot for about $600,000 in 2011, hoping to transform the aging house on the corner of Academy Street and Dry Avenue into a chic anchor for a revamped downtown.

Larry’s Beans’ proposal to put a coffee house there met the profile – an artisan business with regional buzz – but the Raleigh company now has pulled out of the project, according to Cary town staff.

Cary’s announcement of a potential deal last July met widespread excitement. Owner Larry Larson and the town then set to finalizing the town-funded renovation plans and the last details of the lease.

That process ran into typical landlord-tenant snags, Larson said, and was slowed by longer-than-average delays.

Though he praises town staff, Larson partially attributes his project’s cancellation to the phenomenon of “city time.”

“To pounce on that project, you had to line up a lot of things: finances, builders, interior architect, designers,” Larson said. “They were all lined up, and when things don’t happen, you’ve got outside investors who say, ‘We’re not just going to sit in a shoebox here.’ ”

He said he would consider Cary again in the future, and he said the restored building will be “fantastic.”

The cancellation “was internal to Larry and his business, and he still wants to do (the project),” said Ed Gawf, Cary’s former downtown development manager. “I told him that I would talk to other people as well, and I’m hoping, I’ve been meeting with another use that would be equally good, if not better.”

Gawf, commenting during his last day as a full-time staffer, declined to disclose the tenants currently under consideration for the space, saying he wanted to be sure of the deal. The town had trumpeted its plan with Larry’s Beans last summer, though both parties said the deal was tentative.

The town is seeking another food and drink business, Gawf said.

Restoration underway

To prepare the space for a tenant, the town’s contractor will peel back aluminum siding to reveal the building’s wooden exterior. The town also will polish up the roof, expand interior rooms, open fireplaces, restore the trim and install a basic lighting package.

In all, the restoration and renovations are expected to cost $225,000. Cary had planned to rent the building for $2,000 to $2,500 per month.

Gawf expects work will wrap up late in August, with a business potentially moving in soon after. The town is only considering one tenant at the moment. The town has not publicly called for new proposals for the building.

The former downtown manager said he has found that one-on-one recruiting works better than the standard Request for Proposals process, which is how the town originally advertised the Jones property.

In this case, Gawf said, the potential tenant approached Gawf with the pitch for the project.

“We’ve gotten a lot of inquiries,” he said. “Our problem is having enough existing places to fill them.”

The Jones-Foy House was built in the late 1800s, making it one of downtown’s oldest buildings. With 2,200 square feet of space, the house was home to several principals and students of the old Cary High School, which was North Carolina’s first public high school, according to the town.

Gawf changes roles

Work on the Jones-Foy House was one of several public-private projects that Gawf pushed during his two years on town staff. Now he’ll be doing that work in a different form.

Gawf, 69, worked his last day as a staffer on May 31 and now will work as a private consultant out of a downtown Cary office. He describes the change as a transition to full retirement.

As a consultant, he’ll work fewer hours and wind down his involvement in a slate of downtown projects. He had long indicated that he would only stay aboard for two or three years.

“And I sort of felt that in order to make it real that I was leaving, this was what I had to do,” he said. “Otherwise, knock on wood, people probably would have liked me to stay around for a long period of time.”

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

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