New Dave & Buster’s hints at change for Cary Towne Center mall

akenney@newsobserver.comJuly 18, 2013 

— The "coming soon" sign at Cary Towne Center points at a new direction for the town’s biggest indoor mall: A Dave and Buster’s bar and arcade is under construction, replacing about a dozen smaller spots.

For mall management, the grown-up fun-plex is a way to draw attention and life to the mall. Locals lately have worried about the center’s future, asking whether it will be able to hold on amid a flood of big-box stores, online merchants, strip malls and open-air centers.

In online reviews, most customers complain about – or praise – the lack of crowds, and many have noted a seeming decline in the mall’s shopping options and popularity.

“There’s a lot of places to shop in the region. We want to have things that will bring people to this mall,” said Josh Harmon, the new manager of Cary Towne Center. “There’s going to be a big focus, really, across the industry on shopper-tainment, if you will – something that’s tangible, that you see and taste and touch.”

At Dave and Buster’s, customers will see televisions, taste beer and touch video games.

The popular “barcade” chain has only one outlet in North Carolina; its new location, to open this fall, will occupy 30,000 square feet, replacing spaces just across from the Belk store, according to leasing plans.

Bringing the new attraction is “a solid thing we’re doing to revitalize the mall,” Harmon said.

The mall also will build a 2,000-square-foot children’s play area, and it’s in talks to bring new tenants – potentially restaurants – to the space occupied now by a Harris Teeter. (The grocery store is moving across the street, to the former Galaxy Cinema location.)

Eventually, owner CBL Properties may consider a much more dramatic change for Cary Towne Center, which began life as Cary Village Shopping Mall in 1979 alongside a Big Star Food Store, according to local history books.

CBL is conducting an internal assessment for the potential “modernization and repositioning of Cary Towne Center.” The company is considering “transforming the mall” toward “something more along the lines” of the North Hills mall in Raleigh, according to a letter from a company vice president to the Cary Town Council earlier this year.

North Hills bills itself as “Raleigh’s Midtown,” a “multi-faceted district” with open-air shopping, compared to the air-conditioned pavilions of the current Cary mall.

“There’s been a big commitment to this property,” Harmon said. “We’re really starting to do what we can, and we’re looking at other options, as far as maybe larger development.”

Kenney: 919-460-2608; Twitter: @KenneyOnCary

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