Cary sets rough cost, plans for centerpiece downtown park

akenney@newsobserver.comJuly 26, 2013 

A concept plan shows the placement of buildings and other elements, excluding tress and foliage, for the proposed downtown Cary park.

TOWN OF CARY

  • The story so far

    For the past decade, the town of Cary has been buying up land on the downtown block bounded by Academy, Walker, Parker and Walnut streets.

    And for years, town staff and elected officials have debated how to use that land – especially how much of the land should be sold to private developers to spur a downtown revitalization.

    Now a concrete set of plans is emerging, and the council is weighing in.

— After years of debate, the Cary Town Council has reached consensus on the size, shape and potential price of the park that could be downtown’s crown jewel.

Cary’s own Central Park would include about seven acres of public space, potentially setting aside the rest of the 12-acre block for public and private development, along the east side of South Academy Street.

The full plan could cost $15 million to build, and would include rolling greens, a pond, a town square, a parking deck, a new library and retail and commercial buildings.

Town council members previously had argued over just how much of the land should be sold for private development, considering it has been purchased with taxpayer dollars over the last decade.

But the council last week unanimously endorsed the current concept, pleased by its layout and green space.

“I think this is a well-thought-out plan,” Councilman Jack Smith said.

“It’s a pretty balanced plan,” agreed Councilman Don Frantz.

The council also saw a map of the path ahead, divided into three numbered phases, though the town hasn’t set a timeline for each phase.

•  The first step would be the construction of a 1.2-acre town square in the southwest corner of the property, near the Cary Arts Center.

A mix of hard and soft surfaces, this first project would include lighting, benches and seat-level walls at a cost of $1.8 million.

Further upgrades would bring in “enhanced” furnishings and a $1 million centerpiece, most likely a fountain.

During those early years – potentially as soon as 2015 – the town also would try to bring infill development to a lot on South Academy Street, plus a surface parking lot and a new county library for the southern end of the block.

•  A second phase would bring heavy investment to the “lower green,” the open, seven-acre heart of the park.

To enhance the landscape, the town would build terraces along hills; a 0.3-acre pond, possibly with a carousel on its shores; and a paved walking loop.

On the construction side, this phase could include a 20,000-square-foot commercial or retail building on the southeast corner of the park; the town then would expand the parking lot into a 240-space deck.

•  The third phase of the project could bring another private development to the northeast corner of the lot.

This phase would put “gateways” at the north and south ends of the park, and a tree-lined promenade along Walker Street.

The price

The park’s $15 million price tag is divided into three categories.

The parking lot, expanded into a deck, could total $4.8 million; the town square, including the fountain, could cost $5.2 million; the park’s open space is estimated at $5 million.

The town might also pay to put a second story on a new library.

“It’s not just for reading books. It’s a meeting place,” said Councilwoman Lori Bush.

The town already has spent $10 million to acquire almost all of the “opportunity site,” but it could recoup some of that money by selling acreage to developers.

While this idea has drawn protest from some downtown residents, Frantz has put down his qualms with the concept.

“To me, it honors the spirit and the intent of” earlier plans, he said. “The devil’s in the details, as far as what type of development – but the conceptual layout’s fine.”

As early as September, town staff and consultants will bring more-detailed plans of the town square that will be the project’s first phase.

The current budget for the park – roughly $2 million – will cover the first version of the square.

“They like what they saw,” said Doug McRainey, director of parks, recreation and cultural resources. “We have kind of a concept now, for the first time.”

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

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