FUQUAY-VARINA — Drive by the 500 block of Broad Street on a Friday night – chances are, it’s hopping.
Diners enjoy a meal at J&S New York Pizza’s outdoor tables or sip beer at Aviator Tap House.
Longtime Fuquay-Varina residents would likely say the vibe in downtown Varina is vibrant, trendy and a happening place.
It wasn’t like that in the early 1990s when Bill Akins bought his first block of downtown Varina – the block with the old Varina Depot. His grandfather used to own the land.
Akins took a gamble on an area of town that was literally on the wrong side of the railroad tracks on N.C. 55, while growth was exploding off U.S. 401.
At the time, the town invested in a streetscape project. But it was Akins, a developer and hometown boy, who physically changed the look of the Varina downtown, one of two downtown hubs in Fuquay-Varina.
He first spent $4 million to fix the block which houses the well-known Nil’s Bakery. He later invested another $2.5 million to build the two-story Varina Station, which has 10,425 square feet of retail shops and 8,320 square feet of apartments.
Akins’ downtown properties, which mix retail and apartments while maintaining the area’s historic roots, were the first of its kind for the town. And they set a new standard for growth in Fuquay-Varina.
Now the man behind downtown Varina is selling out.
Akins sold Varina Station for $2.8 million in May to Holly Springs couple Lisa and Nathan Cameron.
“It was an investment,” said Akins. “I built it to rent it for a while and then sell it. That was the plan when I bought it. The economy slowed things down. But I felt now that the time was right.”
Akins said he was inspired to sell because the property has maintained about a 100 percent occupancy for the past few years.
With the sale, nothing is expected to change for Varina Station tenants. All the leases will carry over, Akins said.
That’s a good thing for The Vine Natural Health Shoppe, which relocated June 10 from the Link area a few blocks away.
Store manager and lifelong Fuquay-Varina resident Renee Montague said she’s seen the Varina downtown area flourish since Akins invested in the properties.
“It was kind of derelict,” Montague said of the old Varina. “There were a few businesses but no real anchor, outside of Stephens (Hardware). Here it is now, and it’s charming and vital.”
Montague said for the first time, residents can say there is nightlife in Fuquay-Varina. And even though businesses have cycled in and out of Varina Station through the years, they’re still coming.
“This property is really in the part of Fuquay-Varina that is in the heart of emerging growth,” said Jim Adams, a broker with NAI Carolantic Realty, which helped Akins sell the property.