The News & Observer
Author: Steve Cannon; Staff Writer
RALEIGH — When construction on Wakefield Plantation began in the late 1990s, the developers envisioned that the thousands of homes and several shopping centers would one day be complemented by a large office market.
But Cary developer Craig Davis asks, why wait?
Davis, who successfully built large-scale communities mixing offices, stores and homes at Meadowmont in Chapel Hill and N.C. State University’s Centennial Campus, is planning to take that model north to Wakefield.
Davis is taking over as lead developer on 200 acres of commercial-zoned land from Wakefield Associates, which started building roads, water and sewer lines in Wakefield Park, the office portion of the development, in 1997.
What distinguishes Davis’ plan from those of Wakefield Associates is that he will rely on speculative building to drive companies’ interest in Wakefield, instead of waiting for businesses to buy land and develop offices.
“We’re coming into this with a different mind-set,” Davis said. “We’ll still be selling land for users, but doing it in combination with self-development.”
Davis’ company is redrawing plans for the land between U.S. 1 and the main entrance to Wakefield on New Falls of the Neuse Road. The idea is to cluster offices, homes and stores and restaurants around a village center, similar to Meadowmont. But Davis said that abundant available land at Wakefield meant that he could add an office park similar in size to the 500,000-square-foot Venture Center on Centennial Campus.
Midsize office buildings, ranging from 40,000 to 80,000 square feet and aimed at physician’s groups, would be the first construction. Those offices would be followed by residential development, potentially townhouses.
“The whole key to making a mixed-use project work is creating a critical mass of people near the center who will use the offices and services available there,” Davis said.
Although no designs have been submitted to Raleigh officials, Davis said he wants his development to blend with Rex Healthcare’s plans for a 32-acre campus at Wakefield.
“Anytime you have a hospital, that’s a magnet for other types of real estate users,” he said.
Money for the development will come from Davis and other investors, including Roy Rodwell of Durham, who is the majority owner of Wakefield Park.
Rick Rowe of Wakefield Associates said that passing responsibility for development and land sales to Davis makes sense to move development forward at a quicker pace.
“We’re good at certain things, but we’re not better at mixed-use and office development than Craig Davis Properties,” Rowe said. “We were never set up to self-develop this land.”
Since development began in 2000, about 60,000 square feet of offices in three buildings, much of it devoted to doctor groups, and one hotel has been built in Wakefield Park.
Rowe said his company now will focus on new retail projects, including the second phase of Wakefield Commons, a shopping center that faces the office park across New Falls of the Neuse Road. Rowe said that this month he expects to break ground on an expansion that includes a 12-screen movie theater and foundations for several restaurants.
Rowe developed Wakefield Commons and Wakefield Crossing shopping center in partnership with Kimco, the country’s largest shopping center owner, and is directing three other retail projects in North Carolina for Kimco.
Rowe’s road building will also continue in Wakefield Park. His company is extending Forest Pines Drive from New Falls of the Neuse Road to connect with the N.C. 98 bypass, which Davis said will open up much more land for potential office use.
Wakefield Park could benefit from a recovery in demand for office space that is expected this year. And the North Raleigh office market missed much of the speculative construction that hurt other markets, such as Cary’s Weston business park and the area near Research Triangle Park. Office vacancy in north Wake County has averaged 11 percent during the past three years, compared with a Triangle average of 16 percent.
Davis, who has made his name as an office developer by picking niche markets, said that Wakefield fits into his plan for spreading the mixed-use development concept across the Triangle.
“With all the home building at Wakefield and in Wake Forest, this is becoming more of an infill site; just look at the retail big-box expansion in the last three years,” Davis said. “This park is going to be a critical piece in our model.”
Copyright 2004 by The News & Observer Pub. Co.