A Year in Preview: What's New in Western Wake

By Dave Droschak

It’s virtually impossible to drive more than 30 seconds in Western Wake County without encountering bulldozers buzzing, roads rectified, “Now Selling” or “Coming Soon” signs sprinkled at the entrances to countless new communities and dozens of upstart businesses and restaurants engaging in an all-out “Now Hiring” work pool battle for the best of the best. The recession is definitely in the rear-view mirror for towns such as Apex, Cary, Fuquay-Varina, Holly Springs and Morrisville as a second population boom in the last two decades has hit one of the most desirable places to live in the country.

“It all follows rooftops,” said Apex Town Manager Drew Havens. “That’s the reason you see all the retail, the restaurants, along with service offices like dentists and insurance agents along the I-540 corridor. As people move here these retailers use a formula and say, ‘we need X number of rooftops and we can put a store in here.’”

Picturesque horse farms are being replaced by houses; trees being toppled and traded for tiring traffic. It’s just a sign of the times in this emergent area as officials expect the building momentum to gain additional strength in 2017. Along one stretch of Olive Chapel Road in Apex covering less than two miles a new office complex is selling space briskly, a grocery store is set to open in January and construction has begun on a half-dozen upscale subdivisions.

“It is land that people in some cases have essentially banked on, they’ve made investments and
it’s time to realize the benefit of that investment,” Havens said of the disappearing Western
Wake countryside.

“We’re seeing a growing trend of developers acquitting property, submitting plans, getting their financing and beginning the phase of more rooftops, which only supports the commercial develop,” added Fuquay-Varina Town Manager Adam Mitchell. “You’re seeing it work its way down the Highway 55 corridor. I can’t tell you how many prospect conversations we’ve had with developers and investors.”

Cary Living takes a look at What’s New in 2017 in each of the five Western Wake towns.



 photo by dave droschak

photo by dave droschak


What’s not new these days in Apex? The Peak of Good Living will reach new heights this year in the housing market, riding a wave of interest after being named the No. 1 Best Place to Live in the United States by Time/Money Magazine in August 2015. Apex officials no longer measure rooftops by the hundreds, but
the thousands.

“Basically, as fast as they can build the houses people are buying them … and sometimes they are buying before they can build them,” said Apex Town Manager Drew Havens. “There will be 9,000 more address points in 2017 beyond what we have sitting here right now.”

They’ll all need locations to shop, chow down or profess their faith, and there are plenty of new grocery stores, restaurants and churches to choose from.

A Publix grocery store at the corner of Olive Chapel and Kelly roads is scheduled to open in the
first quarter, while a group of restaurant chains have taken hold next to the new Costco along Highway 64.

“The outparcels you see realize that Costco is quite a draw, and they want to capitalize off of it,” Havens said. Ruckus Pizza and Pei Wei Asian Diner will be the newest restaurants to open there.

St. Mary Magdalene Catholic Church and Summit Church each have more than 35,000 square foot sanctuaries of worship being erected in opposite ends of Apex.

What’s Missing: More employment opportunities. “It’s the ‘live, work, play motto,”’ Havens said. “We’ve got ‘live’ going gangbusters with a good mix of housing. We’ve got ‘play’ with some really good parks and greenways, but we also want to give people an opportunity to work in Apex – something beyond the service industry. We would like to bring in some higher paying jobs, some R&D opportunities.”


 renderings courtesy of the town of cary

renderings courtesy of the town of cary


With much of Cary’s land already developed, the city’s newness is focused on downtown, and in particular the re-opening of Academy Street.

The Academy Street improvement project started in May 2015 and is now complete in time for spring festivals. The streetscape atmosphere features 12-foot wide brick sidewalks, dogwood flower bike racks, and marble benches in the shape of musical notes.

“The purpose was to create a street that would be a gathering place and support the cultural activities and the businesses downtown,” said Town of Cary spokeswoman Marie Maguire. “There are tables and chairs up and down both sides of the street to encourage people to come out and sit, or work or have a cup of coffee. We want this to be a destination; we want you to come, we want you to ride your bike here.”

The marble seating was inspired by the different types of musical instruments that were developed or used in making music in North Carolina like the Dobro, banjo, fiddle, mandolin and dulcimer. The benches have a poem or script engraved on each one. 

“The Academy Street seating will inspire conversation, and provide a place to take in the view or to have an impromptu performance,” Maguire said.

At the end of Academy Street and nearing completion is a $5.2 million downtown park town square, which includes such features as a large fountain, outdoor performance space and open lawn areas.

“It’s a place to relax, but also offers an opportunity to host outdoor events and live music,” Maguire said of the park.  

Downtown is also getting a homemade ice cream shop called Fresh, using ingredients from local farms, while a longtime Cary staple – La Farm Bakery – is opening a new production facility at the corner of Chatham and Harrison.



This town experienced the nation’s No. 1 population growth from 2000-2013 for cities with 5,000 or more residents. Now, the recent needs and wants of incoming residents and local government are starting to take shape.

On the front burner in 2017 is the bidding process for a downtown arts center, which will be a state-of-the-art facility to include a new theater that will seat as many
as 400.  

To be located at the intersection of Vance and South Fuquay Avenue in the old Hudson Belk department store building, the Arts Center concept has been discussed since the latter part of the 1990s – and will now become
a reality.

“Trying to find that right location with that perfect size, and design a plan that is manageable and sustainable, and continue to grow with our community is something we spent a lot of time vetting and researching,” said Fuquay-Varina Town Manager Adam Mitchell. “Not having to travel to other communities to enjoy entertainment is important.”
Blessed with actually two downtowns – Fuquay and Varina – the main drags of each continue to see additional boutique and specialty stores setting up shop. Like the Chocolate Fix along Main Street, featuring a wide assortment of chocolate creams and nuts, along with its specialty – chocolate covered potato chips.

Owners George and Kelly Burnett actually drive to Pittsburgh to pick up the confections. Two weeks before the Christmas holiday George returned with 1,500 pounds of chocolate.

“The chocolate-covered chips are amazing,” Kelly said. “It’s a nice thick chip that is double-dipped twice. They are very different, unique, and something you don’t see everywhere.”

Some of Fuquay-Varina’s new initiatives aren’t as high-profile as an arts center or as sexy as chocolate-covered potato chips, but necessary for the thriving community, Mitchell said.  

For example, Fuquay-Varina re-wrote and modernized its land development ordinance, which took hold December 30th. “What didn’t we change?” Mitchell said. “Some of our regulations dated to the 1960s.”

What’s Missing: One-stop shopping. “Our residents want those higher-end retail stores, all in one location so they don’t have to drive 15 minutes,” Mitchell said.

 photos by amanda schoonover

photos by amanda schoonover


Holly Springs

Much like Apex, Holly Springs is seeing record residential development, which has translated into a business boom across the board.

“A lot of the things our residents want are coming to fruition now, in terms of not having to leave Holly Springs to go shopping or for medical services or to get your oil changed,” said Assistant Town Manager Daniel Weeks.  

The town’s first movie theater has opened in the Holly Springs Towne Center shopping center off of NC Highway 55, as the second phase of a three-phase plan for that complex is now a main shopping and restaurant hub.

However, Ovation Cinema Grill 9 is not your ordinary theater. It offers luxury premium reclining seats with food and beverage available at the press of a button at every seat. The lobby even sports a fireplace and full-service bar.

“It is a big deal for us since it wasn’t too long ago that Holly Springs didn’t even have a traffic light,” said town spokesman Mark Andrews. “It’s very kid friendly. On Tuesdays they have $5 movies, all day long, for adults and kids. It’s an
impressive place.”

In addition, a new Fresh Market is included in the recentlyapproved Holly Lakes Shopping Center at Sunset Commons, a 51,500 square foot center coming to Sunset Lake Road between Holly Springs Road and Optimist Farm Road.

A second building, a three-story, 45,000 square foot complex, has been approved for the Rex Healthcare campus at NC Hwy 55 and Avent Ferry Road. Beyond that, Rex also has state approval for a 50-bed hospital for the campus.

“All of these locations allow our residents to stay within our borders, providing jobs, a lot
of seasonal jobs, which helps our tax base.” Next summer, the Coastal Plain League will also hold its all-star game at North Main Athletic Complex.

What’s Missing: While the town’s sports complex brings in excess of 250,000 people to the area, Holly Springs still just has one hotel. “We’ve had inquiries, people coming buy kicking the tires and looking, but no definite plans committed at this point,” Wells said.


 photo courtesy of the town of morrisville

photo courtesy of the town of morrisville

 photo by dave droschak

photo by dave droschak


For starters, the most “industrial” of the five Western Wake communities is rebranding itself with a new logo for 2017. The pine cone has been replaced by the motto “Live Connected Live Well”.

“It no secret that Morrisville has been growing fast, with citizens, visitors and business owners coming to our town from all over the world,” said Morrisville spokeswoman Stephanie Smith. “As the town has changed, we have outgrown our brand. But before we updated our identity, we wanted to first understand what qualities make Morrisville unique, particularly in comparison to the many other wonderful municipalities around us.”

Morrisville officials talked to over 700 citizens and visitors at events, and distributed an online survey and conducted focus groups of what people love about Morrisville.

“What we found is our citizens value the connection they feel here,” Smith said. “We feel Morrisville is a warm and welcoming spot – the community of a small town with all the conveniences and amenities of a metropolitan city.” The Town of Morrisville will also be redesigning its website in 2017.

Dirt is now being moved on the first phase of the McCrimmon Parkway Extension, which will extended east from NC Hwy 54 to the existing section of McCrimmon Parkway at Perimeter Park Drive as a four-lane roadway with sidewalks and multi-use paths on each side, as well as bicycle accommodations.  

In addition, the Wake Tech RTP Campus has broken ground. The plans for the 94-acre site include up to 10 instructional buildings, with the capacity to serve as many as 7,000 students. Meanwhile, Park West Village continues to expand with additional shops and residential opportunities – both along the Highway
54 corridor.  

What’s Missing: Additional recreation.