This story was written for WRAL TechWire Innovator partner the Town of Holly Springs.

Apple Inc. was founded in the garage of Steve Jobs’ childhood home. UPS was founded by two teenage friends with one bicycle and a borrowed $100. Shark Tank’s most lucrative product ever ($75 million in revenue so far) is a smiley face sponge called a Scrub Daddy.

The point is — great ideas don’t have to be born in a fancy high rise, and the “next big thing” isn’t always rocket science.

The Triangle region has proved this and has been referred to as “The Silicon Valley of the South.” Chapel Hill, Raleigh and Durham — the three points of the respective Triangle — are all making their marks. But so are the neighboring cities and cusp towns of the area.

Last year, the town of Holly Springs became a Certified Entrepreneurial Community — the first in North Carolina. The CEC certification has given Holly Springs entrepreneurial street cred, but it’s also given the town a new sense of purpose.

After an ecosystem assessment as part of the CEC process, the community identified two initiatives to engage and support entrepreneurs:

  • Help local business people find and leverage the business resources that serve Holly Springs.
  • Develop events and physical planning to make downtown Holly Springs a great place to live, work and play.

Holly Springs resident John Dalpe served as the leader of the downtown development initiative.

“My role was to lead a group of people that were focused on bringing awareness to the growth of downtown,” he said. “The people that participated had a similar vision in that it’s one of the things that Holly Springs had really been missing for maybe forever — a sense of a downtown.”

Downtown areas are vital for cities looking to create a central business district. They are hubs of activity and give cities an identity that goes beyond a skyline printed t-shirt.

Dalpe, who is a local business owner, said the town government and staff are very supportive of the local business community and want it to succeed.

“It’s not the Wild Wild West, there are rules to make sure that it’s responsible growth, but [the town] is still very, very supportive,” he said.

Kendra Parrish, director of engineering for the Town of Holly Springs, said that in the last year, the town has invested almost $10 million in public infrastructure. The impetus for much of this funding was born from the goals of the CEC initiative.

“Up until then, we had probably a couple projects — like a main street enhancement project where we put benches, street trees, signage,” she said. “Up until this year, we had not had a lot of new construction downtown. We don’t have those existing buildings for people to just set up and move into — they have to actually invest and build from the ground up, which is more expensive.”

Parrish explained the Holly Springs’ downtown development incentive program has been successful in attracting businesses and developers to the downtown area as the town helps contribute towards public infrastructure development fees.

In the past almost 30 years, the population of Holly Springs has exploded from 1,000 residents in 1990 to a present-day 34,000. As the town anticipates more growth, it’s building a place where its current residents and future ones can grow professionally and socially. The revitalization of downtown and public infrastructure projects play big roles in this.

Holly Springs Town Hall Commons Build Site

The future site of Town Hall Commons, a more than 43,000-square-foot mixed-use development project. (Courtesy of Town of Holly Springs)

Two of the town’s biggest projects are The Block, which is a private development funded by an investor, and 242 Main, which is also a private development. Town Hall Commons refers to the $10 million public infrastructure project that supports both of these private developments.

“The town went in with [the private developers] and we helped with land purchase. The town is building all of the infrastructure for the private development. It’s a true partnership,” Parrish explained. “The private development is building a parking deck that the town is paying for, and then the public gets to use that parking deck. [Additionally], we are extending water lines, we are building sidewalks, curb and gutters, storm drainage, we’re building [the] Roger Street extension.

“It’s called Roger Street extension, but it’s a new road that creates the block between The Block and 242.”

The Block on Main will be a more than 52,000-square-foot mixed-use building of office, retail and dining space.

Stephen Chan of Rendering House — one of The Block’s company investors — said Holly Springs used to be referred to as a “bedroom community.” Bedroom communities are places in which people live, but are not necessarily employed in. Chan alluded that urban development will change this.

“When people can live and work and play in a town, it’s a very satisfying life,” he said.

Chan’s business partner, John Lee, said that the community is very invested in The Block — Rendering House even let residents vote on a final logo for it.

“This development — even though, yes, obviously, we want a return in it — we want the community to actually own it. So we let them have a lot of input. And if you go to The Block on Main’s Facebook page, that’s what they chose,” Chan said.

Jon Harol, a Holly Springs entrepreneur and founder of the Coworking Station, is a lead investor in The Block along with Rendering House. He said there is a need in Holly Springs for a place that unique businesses can call home.

“[Harol] initially came to us with this concept [for The Block] and then later, the Rendering House owners became partners in the project. We very much value and respect their abilities,” said Daniel Weeks, Holly Springs interim town manager. “They’re proven. They [began] the Coworking Station here, and it’s flourishing. So, we had no reason to believe that they couldn’t do that on a larger scale, with a larger project.”

242 Main will be a 45,000-square-foot mixed-use (office, retail, restaurant) building. Both 242 Main and The Block will be located in the village district and are meant to create a downtown space that fosters entrepreneurship, inspires people to congregate for socialization and recreation, and gives Holly Springs an identity.

Weeks anticipates the success of these buildings and hopes that “others see the success and follow suit.”

“We probably have an advantage because we’re starting with a blank slate,” he continued. “We’re [virtually] a blank canvas downtown that these investors and developers can come into and create something new. I think [these projects] will fill that need for a social gathering spot.”

Weeks said these developments will be very unique.

“Nothing against chain developments, but I believe when you see those more ‘mom and pop,’ local homegrown developments, it’s something you could really get excited about,” he mused. “People can congregate, get together and meet [and] say, ‘Meet me [downtown] at 5 o’clock after work.”

Parrish said the town’s vision is to continue to “seed downtown development” and make it a trade destination spot.

Lee mentioned The Block will feature inlaid bricks from a historical demolished building that were preserved to help “bring the past into the future.”

After all, to know where you’re going, you have to know where you’ve been, and Holly Springs is saying loud and clear, “Stay tuned.”

This story was written for WRAL TechWire Innovator partner the Town of Holly Springs.