Boomtowns: Wake Forest works to manage commercial and residential development

Michael Perchick Image
Thursday, June 15, 2023
Boomtowns: Wake Forest works to manage commercial, residential growth
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Wake Forest wrestles to maintain its charm while dealing with a massive population influx.

WAKE FOREST, N.C. (WTVD) -- On Thursday afternoon, Gov. Roy Cooper delivered remarks for the Wake Forest Chamber of Commerce 75th anniversary celebration. On the way into the ceremony, two children, wearing clothing more common for the 1950s, handed out celebratory newspapers, all part of an effort to recognize the Chamber's founding. Yet even a far more modest look back represents plenty of change.

"Ten years ago, it was a much different town," said Joe Kimray, who owns B&W Hardware on S. White Street.

The popular store has been open since 1949, with Kimray pointing to close relationships with fellow downtown shop owners.

"We're all friendly with each other. But it's important that no one steps on anyone else's toes. Each shop offers something different," said Kimray.

Maintaining the aesthetic that has drawn so many people to Wake Forest remains important, though it represents a balancing act as the town deals with a massive population influx.

The 2010 census reports listed the town's population at roughly 30,000, while estimates last year state it's approaching 50,000.

"Half of the homes that sell are all new-construction homes, and there's huge developments going up all over the place," said Will Draper, a resident who owns Living Wake Forest Real Estate NC.

ALSO SEE: Wendell, Apex and other Boomtowns across the area

Like other areas across the Triangle, prices soared and inventory plummeted in the early stages of the pandemic.

"We're seeing kind of a flattening in the pricing in the area, flattening in the number of homes for sale. So while we were (on) this gigantic, huge upswing over the past few years, we are seeing that start to taper back," said Draper.

Draper said the higher price points have altered the buyers pool.

"I would say 60% of the clients we work with are coming from California and the Northeast. So a lot of Massachusetts, a lot of Boston, a lot of New York; we're seeing some from Chicago. We have three closings today. Two of them are from Chicago and one is from Massachusetts. So it's been a big shift in where people are coming from," Draper said.

To manage all the new interest, developers are prioritizing density.

"We're seeing more people in a smaller area. We're seeing a lot of apartment buildings being constructed as well," said Draper.

Kimray credited the town for balancing residential and commercial growth thus far while acknowledging the effect of the Capital Boulevard Project delay.

"It's getting people into Wake Forest from the south side, from Raleigh, Cary, Apex, that has become sort of a sticking point here in town. Getting Capital Boulevard converted over to the freeway will make access to Wake Forest, access to my business and other businesses much easier for people from across the region," said Kimray.

The project, which is overseen by NCDOT, is broken up into four segments. The segments connecting Durant and Perry Creek Roads in Raleigh to Burlington Mills Road in Wake Forest have no set date for completion, with the work viewed as a key tool to address traffic concerns for residents.

"So when you're coming into Raleigh, RTP, super attractive areas for business industry, you're looking at the suburbs all around. We are still one of the most attractive suburbs because of our cost of living, but also our connectivity to Durham," said Liz Simpers, President of the Wake Forest Chamber of Commerce. "It's really easy to get to Durham on 98 from Wake Forest, and it's pretty easy to get to Raleigh, but we're working on the Capital Boulevard Project. That's kind of our sticky wicket right now. How are we getting people north all the way down to Raleigh for jobs?"

Locally, there have been town-led projects to try to make navigating the town easier. One such effort is a private-public partnership widening lanes on South Franklin Street, in which construction is set to start later this year.

Developers take accessibility into consideration when beginning new projects, a point the town is trying to navigate as it works to attract different industries.

"Life sciences is really important. Technology is always important, and we're learning that after the pandemic, people don't want to only work at home anymore. So how are we creating hybrid workspaces and how are we creating campuses where people can work there," said Simpers.

The Loading Dock, where ABC11 met with both Kimray and Simpers, is a co-working space that allows entrepreneurs to collaborate. It's the type of setting that Simpers is referring to as business leaders look for ways to highlight existing space, especially within walking distance to downtown.

"We've seen a lot of people finally take the chance to start the business they've wanted to start, especially in the past few years since the pandemic hit. It's changed a lot of people's ideas of what they think they should do for their family and provide and they've really taken the chance on the thing that's always been a dream for them," Simpers said. "For us, we've seen a lot of growth in people coming into the area, but wanting to live, work and play here, not just live here and commute to Raleigh (and) Durham."

Kimray added: "The residential growth in town has been great. It has brought a lot of people. (Friday Night on White is) an event that happens right in our historic downtown. It brings upwards of 15,000 people, the second Friday of every month right in front of my store. What that does is in conjunction with the town bringing them to us, is we can then capture those customers and they keep coming back because they're learning about us. And they may not even be a resident of Wake Forest."