Volume 16, Number 7
The potential developers of Powerhouse Row, a mixed-use downtown development project slated to occupy the empty lot at the corner of Elm Avenue and South White Street immediately east of the CSX rail line, asked the Wake Forest Town Board Tuesday night to extend the White Street streetscape project south to include the project and to help with parking for the future retail, restaurant and apartment tenants.
The mayor, commissioners and town manager, showing some knowledge of the project before Tuesday night’s work session, agreed to those requests and the third one, which is to be flexible about the police department’s lease of one of the three buildings which will be razed after the first building is complete.
The empty lot and the three buildings at 430, 432 and 502 South White, 1.7 acres in all, are owned by Wright Partners, which is Ricky Wright, owner of the Electric Motor Shop on North White Street, and his sister, Jenny Wright.
The developers are J. Russell Allen of Allen Ventures LLC and William Barker of Barker Realty, Barker Property Management Services and Barker Construction Group. Allen was Raleigh’s city manager for 12 years before his contract was not renewed in 2013.
They plan two buildings, one three stories and the later one four stories, each with an elevator, with a mix of retail and restaurants on the ground floors with apartments in the floors above. Building one will have 18 to 20 apartments, based on the unit configuration, and building two will have 27 to 30 apartments. The buildings will be of brick with cornices and flat roofs, mimicking the existing South White buildings, but with some modern touches such as balconies. Both will face South White Street and have onsite parking for the apartment tenants. The additional off-site parking is for the retail and restaurant tenants who will also use on-street parking.
Allen and Barker suggested in their written application that the upper parking lot at SunTrust Bank “would be ideal. It does not need to be exclusive parking to support our development but instead can also support other downtown businesses and special event parking.”
The big request by Allen and Barker was for the town to provide the design, construction and financing to extend the White Street streetscape to their buildings or beyond.
Town Manager Kip Padgett had ready answers for all three requests. He said the town already is planning the continuation of the streetscape but in the Capital Improvements Plan the town plans to spend $2.5 million in fiscal 2019-20 to improve Owen Avenue, Jones Avenue and Brooks Street. Padgett said they could amend the CIP to “go south.” He added that the payments for the past streetscape will end in 2018 and he has a meeting with Kimley-Horn engineering and design firm on Wednesday (today) to discuss plans and costs for the continuation south.
About the Wake Forest Police Department lease at 502 South White, Padgett said he would ask Chief Jeff Leonard and Captain Darren Abbacchi to look for other space.
And about the parking. Padgett said the update of the Renaissance Plan for downtown does call for agreements with private entities to provide parking.
Commissioner Brian Pate asked if this request would make a change in the plans for Jones and the other streets, and Padgett said the commissioners could amend the CIP or make it a new project. Pate also said he hoped there would be a balancing of the construction schedules. “I hesitate to see White Street and Brooks Street torn up at the same time. We don’t want to get in a situation where we’re packing other arteries.”
The streetscape includes all underground utilities such as electric and cable along with sidewalks, pavers, lighting, landscaping, and provision for parallel parking on both sides of the street. Allen emphasized that the town’s improvements need to be complete at the same time the first building is ready for tenants.
The preliminary schedule is for Allen and Barker to complete construction by Jan. 1, 2019. The estimated costs for the land, site development and building are $5.6 million for building one and $7 million for building two. The group has a commitment from HomeTrust Bank for the financing.
Why is this named Powerhouse Row? The proposal Allen and Barker wrote says “it was chosen to pay tribute to the importance of electricity to the Wake Forest community and its growth and quality of life. It also honors the Town of Wake Forest as a public power community with links to the old town powerhouse which was locate just west of the site. (That brick building with the faint words WATER LIGHT on the front is now the crematorium for Bright Funeral Home.) Additionally, it recognizes the original location of the Wright family Electric Motor Shop which has continued as a major local family-owned business. (The building at 504 South White Street which The Wake Weekly occupied for several years is separate from the former Electric Motor Shop although they appear to be just one building. They were built at the same time.)