This story was written for our sponsor, the Wake Forest Business & Industry Partnership.
As the 10th fastest growing municipality of the 552 total in the state, Wake Forest is quickly cementing itself as a hub for economic prosperity and a dynamic quality of life. Additionally, the town’s opportunity boom is reflected in its immense population growth, which surpassed 50,000 residents at the end of 2020.
This upward trajectory is creating a renaissance in Wake Forest that is impacting job opportunities, retail amenities, outdoor activities and industrial innovations. So much of this historic town’s boom, however, is happening right in the heart of its downtown.
“There is no better place than Wake Forest’s downtown to fully display our ‘Big City Energy’ and ‘Small Town Charm.’ Simultaneously fusing an historic charm of years gone by with a palpable energy of innovation, our Downtown is indeed one of a kind,” said Jason Cannon, president of the Wake Forest Business and Industry Partnership, a nonprofit dedicated to the economic growth of the town. “Without question, downtown serves as the heart of our very special community here.”
Currently, there are several new developments underway or recently completed in downtown Wake Forest that will determine a lot about the core of the town’s future, from historic renovated warehouses made coworking hubs to charming and luxurious townhome living.
Former SunTrust building site
Located at 353 South White St., the former site of the SunTrust building located at the corner of White Street and Elm Avenue spans one acre in the heart of downtown. Slated for redevelopment into a mixed-use, pedestrian-oriented property located at a key corner, the town plans to use the site to serve as the major gateway into downtown.
“The SunTrust building site is such a key property in the redevelopment of downtown. It connects the northern and southern corridors of our downtown, and the town identified the property as a great redevelopment asset and is preparing to take it to the private market,” said Lisa Hayes, former downtown development director and current strategic performance manager for the Town of Wake Forest. “What we’re looking to do is incorporate a mixed-use project that spurs engaging street-level uses, specifically restaurant and retail activity at street level with residential offerings above.”
Because the property is located at such a key intersection of the downtown area, it will also provide much-needed public pathways and parking. While a developer has not yet been selected for the redevelopment project (an RFP process is slated for early 2021), conceptual plans and in-depth studies on the marketability of the site have been completed, priming the property for the next stages of development.
Loading Dock Wake Forest
The Loading Dock originated in Raleigh in 2016 and has opened its third Raleigh location called “Beryl” near Meredith College. Now, this coworking community is in the process of launching its fourth campus and first non-Raleigh campus in downtown Wake Forest.
The entrepreneur incubation hub will be located in a former warehouse at 525 South White St., bringing nearly 24,000 square feet of coworking and business incubation space to the town. Based on an economic impact analysis commissioned by Cannon at the WFBIP, when fully operational, Loading Dock Wake Forest is projected to generate 437 jobs downtown, nearly 150 of which will be newly created.
Bob Johnson, co-owner of the Cotton Company, a retail business incubator for entrepreneurs and artists, and owner of the warehouse where Loading Dock Wake Forest will soon call home, is passionate about preserving history and maintaining an emphasis on community with the project.
“You can build buildings that look historic, but you can’t have history in those buildings. You find history when you can show someone a building and then start telling a story about what used to be there,” said Johnson. “When we first came to Wake Forest years ago, I told my wife it was a diamond in the rough. Now, that diamond is already shining, and we’re at the point of polishing it to make it even brighter.”
To polish the proverbial diamond while developing Loading Dock Wake Forest, Johnson and his team took care to preserve as much of the historic building and surrounding nature as possible. In doing so, they’re cultivating a meeting place for the creative community as well as spurring on cultural and economic activity.
“We don’t want to lose any green space. We do not want to lose any contributing trees, or cut a tree down when it won’t have any benefit. Our goal has been to preserve all the green space and trees that we can,” said Johnson. “One of the nice aspects of the space is that we’re planning to have a long deck with benches so people can sit outside, listen to music, enjoy community events and that sort of thing. We’re going to have events and activities going on so that the community can hang out with the people that work here everyday, hopefully melding private interest with community interest.”
Loading Dock Wake Forest scheduled its official launch for Dec. 4, in collaboration with a street fair-like event hosted by Triangle Pop-up. Once fully integrated into downtown, its annual economic impact is projected to be over $178 million across Wake County, with $101 million in impact within the Town of Wake Forest alone.
“This represents the largest single economic impact of any development in downtown Wake Forest’s history,” said Cannon.
Retreat at Renaissance
Located on formerly undeveloped property in downtown Wake Forest, the Retreat at Renaissance is now the site of 85 picturesque, two- and three-story townhomes. Spearheaded by Stanley Martin Homes, the neighborhood sold out before development was complete.
“The townhomes are right in the heart of downtown and walking distance from local shopping and dining. It has been a beautiful downtown residential project that has brought in scores of new people to support our local businesses,” said Hayes.
The Retreat at Renaissance townhomes are maintenance-free and surrounded by shopping, dining, entertainment and parks, with Over the Falls Deli, Strike & Barrel bowling alley, the Renaissance Center for the Performing Arts and a soon to arrive indoor sports venue — all immediately next door to the development. While there are currently no homes for sale in the neighborhood, photos and videos online can give those interested a glimpse inside the units.
Developed by Russel Allen and William Barker, PowerHouse Row is a mixed-use development that pays tribute to Wake Forest’s unique history with electricity.
“The site was bought from the Wright family, and they’re the founders of the Electric Motor Shop, which is a fairly large business that has been in Wake Forest for quite some time. They used to have their shop on this site, in these buildings. If you look right across the tracks behind our building, there’s a brick building there that was the original light and powerhouse for the town,” said Allen. “For the name of the development, PowerHouse recognizes electricity, the town is a public power community — they own the electric system, not Duke energy or anybody else — so we felt like tying in that link to history.”
Allen formerly served as the city manager of Raleigh, then transitioned to real estate investment and development with his company, Allen Ventures. After intentionally seeking out property that would lend itself to a mixed-use development, he found the site that now houses PowerHouse Row.
The exterior was built to intentionally match the historic facade of other buildings downtown, and the ground level retail space offers just under 10,000 square feet divided into five to six bays. There are two floors above the retail space, each holding nine apartments, totaling 18 units. Apartment floor plans vary from two-bed, two-bath to studios. At present, all of those units are completely leased up.
Plans for Phase 2 of PowerHouse Row are now underway. This structure will be larger than Phase 1, with some 12,000 square feet of commercial and retail space at street level. The three floors above will offer additional apartment rentals in a variety of sizes, as well as a new addition that includes a fourth residential floor with five penthouse apartments. These units will faceSouth White Street and include a rooftop deck.
In total, Phase 2 of PowerHouse Row will include 47 apartment units with early investment projections hovering around $14 million.
“Small towns and medium-size towns are very attractive now, and they will continue to be five or 10 years down the road. Not everybody wants the hustle and bustle of a city — they want something smaller, but they still want a lot of the amenities that come with a city,” said Allen. “A town like Wake Forest that has those amenities is well-positioned and will be for years to come.”
535 South White Street Warehouse
Located adjacent and sharing an open space with Loading Dock Wake Forest, the former Welsh warehouse at 535 South White St. was acquired by Atlas Stark Holdings of Raleigh earlier this year. Plans for the 16,000-square-foot vacant warehouse encompass a mix of uses, including food and beverage as well as private office spaces.
In keeping with downtown Wake Forest’s heritage of preserving old structures and bringing them new life, Atlas intends to preserve the character of the 535 Warehouse while completely restoring the space inside and out, meeting today’s demands for the growing numbers of residents and visitors venturing downtown.
The site will offer a place for people to “play” by gathering around food and beverage venues, as well as create additional private office spaces. For members of the community who both value adaptive reuse and see downtown Wake Forest as an ideal place to “work,” Atlas is another welcomed addition to the growing southern end of the town’s core.
“Over the past several years, the town has invested significantly into downtown’s public infrastructure, specifically extending its streetscaping along White Street to expand the footprint of downtown,” said Cannon. “The goal was to spur new development beyond the borders of our traditional historic core. Starting with Phase 1 of PowerHouse Row and with Phase 2 now in the planning stages, combined with the impending launch of Loading Dock Wake Forest and the plans Atlas Stark has underway, we are seeing those goals come to fruition before our eyes — and far faster than anticipated.”
Indeed, even amidst the lingering pandemic, these are exciting times for downtown Wake Forest.
“Downtown has always been the core of our community, and our history is in downtown — but recently, it has exploded,” said Hayes. “It’s gone from what I would call a sleepy, welcoming downtown to having a mix of something for everyone. We now have two breweries, award-winning restaurants and coffee shops, a wine and yoga bar, an independent bookstore, a bowling alley — and all of that has occurred within a few years.”
“As a close-knit and yet actively growing community, we are thrilled with the progress we’ve seen and excited to watch for and welcome the new opportunities that await our downtown in the months and years ahead.”
This story was written for our sponsor, the Wake Forest Business & Industry Partnership.