Cary, NC — With each turn of a new year, Mayor Harold Weinbrecht presents his annual State of Cary Address to highlight the highs and lows of the past year and present the ambitions for the next.
Weinbrecht presented the 2021 State of Cary Address this morning to a virtual audience in a Cary Chamber Zoom forum. For those who didn’t tune in, here is a copy of his written address detailing some of the Town’s 2020 struggles, its continued development and areas of focus set for 2021.
Mayor Harold Weinbrecht:
“I am honored and humbled to present my 14th annual address in this, Cary’s Sesquicentennial year.
As we begin 2021, it is important to reflect on the events of the previous year. Last year provided us the opportunity to observe and demonstrate acts of kindness and courage while persevering through a tough year together.
COVID-19 Hits Cary in Early 2020
The world saw staggering losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Tragically, many lost their lives, others suffered serious physical and mental health issues. Countless people lost their jobs; and longtime businesses closed their doors for good.
Cary wasn’t immune from the pandemic. In fact, the first case officially reported in North Carolina was here in Cary. By year’s end at least 16 Cary residents lost their lives to COVID-19 and over 5000 had been infected. Many businesses struggled and continue to struggle. The Town’s fiscal year budget conservatively assumed revenue losses of as much as $11 million less than projected; even so, we fared better than most municipalities.
None of us knows how long the financial impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic will last, or how quickly or slowly our local economy will rebound. As a result, we used a conservative approach for this year’s budget. The operating budget focuses on “staying the course” and maintaining service levels.
A total of $2 million has been set aside to address pandemic related operational expenses that may arise in the coming months. And Cary’s process of using a rolling budget will allow us to quickly adjust to needs that may arise throughout the year.
In addition to addressing the financial impacts of COVID, we had to create a new normal at Town Hall, in March of 2020, we decided to close all of our facilities to the public and they remain closed at least through March of this year.
Most Programs, Services Continued Virtually
All town meetings are now virtual with citizens participating remotely. This was, and still is, all about keeping people safe and well, and after 10 months of our pandemic normal, we are just now approaching what we hope is the peak of this devastating virus.
While Cary has been significantly impacted by the pandemic, we were well situated to handle it due to the thoughtful planning of leaders past and present. After I signed a State of Emergency Order in March the town’s Emergency Operations Center quickly moved into action making sure citizen services were provided while keeping our employees’ safety top of mind.
Our 311 center, which opened in January of 2020, played a critical role throughout the year, serving as a one-stop connection point with our citizens. Programs like monthly utility billing and small business assistance were provided thanks to the partnership with our community and the Cary Chamber.
Critical intergovernmental communications were carried out on all levels with frequent calls between the Wake County mayors and the North Carolina Metro Mayors as well as “the Big 5 plus Cary Municipal Managers Group.” We relied heavily on the guidance set forth by our county and state agencies and are thankful for their public health expertise.
Frontline Workers and Heroes Step Up for Community
In the midst of the countless tragedies, 2020 also saw the emergence of heroes throughout the nation with healthcare and other frontline workers risking their lives every day for the good of everyone. Cary had no shortage of heroes. Our sanitation workers not only picked up solid waste and recycling on time but also continued collecting our yard waste, which was not done by neighboring communities.
Our police officers and firefighters not only kept us safe but also had to ensure their safety as well which could have had dramatic implications if a group of them had to be quarantined. Our planners, engineers, and inspectors continued to move projects forward which helped sustain our economic engine. The remainder of the town’s 1200 employees quickly transitioned to working remotely and performed seamlessly with great adaptability. We are so blessed to have all of them, and they deserve our thanks!
A Nationwide Reckoning on Race
If the pandemic weren’t enough, 2020 brought horrible acts of racial injustice that prompted millions across the nation to pour into the streets and cry out for change. Cary citizens peacefully protested with several events and marches. I joined a march in Downtown Cary along with other mayors, council members, police chiefs, officers, pastors, and many others. Cary is a diverse community that embraces and celebrates our diversity.
There is absolutely no place for injustices of any kind in Cary.
On June 3rd I signed President Obama’s Mayors’ Pledge in which I promised that the town would review police use of force policies and engage our community in a broad range of input, experiences, and stories. In July, staff and an outside consultant formed a team to begin the work of the Pledge. In addition, we also plan to create a broader diversity and inclusion task force in 2021 with a report and recommendations about a year later.
Cary’s Accolades, Awards of 2020
Despite all of 2020’s challenges, Cary, once again, received numerous accolades. Some of those include
- #8 Most recession-resistant city in the United States – Smart Assets
- #1 for women achieving success in business in the US – SmartAsset, Cary
- #1 for 2021 Small Business Outlook | Strong Showing For NC Recovery (Raleigh-Cary ) – SmartAsset, Raleigh-Cary Metro
- #10 Best Mid-Sized City for Money Management – WalletHub, Cary
- #1 Safest City on The Road in NC – Insurify, Cary
- #4 Happiest City in the US, #1 in NC – Zippia, Cary
- #2 Best place to live in North Carolina – Home snacks
- #11 in the United States where millennials are buying homes – SmartAsset, Cary
- # 12 Raleigh-Cary on ‘Best Places for Women Entrepreneurs’ – SmartAsset, Raleigh-Cary MSA
- 2020 Public Sector Project Award at NC Tech Awards – NC TECH, Cary
- 2020 Public Sector Innovation Award in Leveraging IoT for Increased Flood Protection – Public Sector 360
Latest Demographic Numbers in Cary
As we begin 2021 Cary remains the 2nd largest town in the nation and the 7th largest municipality in North Carolina with an incorporated area of roughly 60 square miles. About 85% of land under our jurisdiction has been developed which means most future development proposals will be redevelopment and infill.
Our tax rate is 35 cents which is and has been the lowest tax rate in Wake County for over a dozen years to go along with the highest quality of life. More than 65% of our citizens have college degrees. The median household income in Cary is over $97,000 which is 166% of the national level. And we continue to be recognized as one of the safest communities in the nation.
We also start 2021 in a very strong financial position, once again holding the highest rating from all three major bond rating agencies. This year’s budget of $427.6 million includes both operating and capital spending and $41.8 million in voter-approved general obligation bond projects.
These projects include the design and construction of a downtown parking deck, Carpenter Fire Station and McCrimmon neighborhood parks, NC 540 enhancements of sidewalks and greenways, and the design and construction of Louis Stephens Drive and Carpenter Upchurch sidewalks.
Cary Fares Well in Employment, Jobs
America is technically in a recession, which means there have been back-to-back quarterly declines in the GDP. However, Cary continues to fare well especially with employment. The last data we received showed an unemployment rate nationally at approximately 6.7%, while the state was at 6.3%, and Cary was 5.3%. Cary saw the addition of 1,626 jobs this past year through new and expanding businesses and with the opening of several businesses:
- Amazon Delivery Station – 250 jobs
- Wake Med Cary Hospital – 341 jobs
- Chicken Salad Chick Restaurant – 50 jobs
- Circle Graphics – 250 jobs
- Duke Health Green Level Expansion – 80 jobs
- Community Care Physicians Network- 240 jobs
- First Bank – 10 jobs
- Telerent Leasing’s headquarters relocation to Cary- 95 jobs
- The Templeton of Cary – 60 jobs
- UNC Health Care Panther Creek Facility – 100 jobs, and
- Wegmans – 150 jobs
All signs show and economists predict that we can expect many more job announcements this year.
Environment: A Key Future Focus
Cary is committed to becoming an even better steward of our environment. The town is approximately 85% built out with 30% permanently retained as open space which protects our wildlife, improves our air quality, improves our water quality, and mitigates flooding. We have hired an urban forestry manager to further this initiative.
The town’s fleet, particularly in the last few years, has been transitioning to more “green” vehicles allowing us to reduce our emissions. We recently approved the purchase of our first electric garbage truck. Council will be acting on additional proposals in the coming months. We will be looking to supplement our current small solar installations such as bus stops with the implementation of solar on the top of town facilities.
Recycling continues to remain a hot topic as we collect more material and have fewer and fewer companies that will take it. It is important not only to divert more waste from the landfill but to be a more environmentally friendly community. We are currently partnering with regional agencies and NC State for more innovative approaches.
Cary Developments: Eastern Gateway
The Eastern Gateway and downtown continue to see the biggest activity for development in Cary.
The Fenton development, which received construction loans in September, began construction on their 90-acre mixed-use development last fall. Their construction loan, at about $200 million, was the second-largest commercial construction loan for private development in the Triangle’s history, behind the Amazon distribution center in Garner. The retail portion of the first phase of development is nearly 70% leased. Phase 1 will include over 563,000 square feet of retail and office and 356 multi-family units.
Epic Games at Cary Towne Center
Across the street, the 87-acre mall site, which was purchased by Turnbridge properties a couple of years ago, has been sold to Epic Games. Epic plans to begin development of its new global headquarters this year with a goal of occupying the new campus by 2024.
The facilities will include both office and recreational spaces. While plans for the Epic Games campus are still in the early phases, the company is already working with the town on exploring ways some of this property might be used by the community.
Community Recreation/Sports Center
Cary is continuing to move forward with the Community Recreation and Sports Center in the Eastern Gateway, currently planned for a portion of the former mall site now owned by Epic Games. In 2020, Raleigh and Wake County approved $35 million in Hotel Occupancy funding towards the development of the facility.
An architectural firm will be hired to develop and implement a process that engages Cary’s citizens and stakeholders to determine the types of uses for the center and to master plan the facility. The entire facility is projected to be approximately 250,000 sq ft in size.
Currently, the plan calls for approximately 100,000 square feet of competition space with 12 full-sized basketball courts that can be converted to 20 full-sized volleyball courts, and the ability to transform into a 4,000-seat arena for championship games, e-gaming tournaments, and performances. There will be 25,000 square feet of multipurpose space for event support, tournament meetings, exhibit space, walkthroughs, etc.
It will have dedicated space for esports as well as for veterans and seniors. Additionally, it will have full-sized team locker rooms with showers, a full-service restaurant, commercial kitchen space for events and catering, In terms of the schedule, this year we hope to hire an individual to manage the center. The center’s conceptual design should occur in 2022 with the final design in 2023. Construction should begin in 2023 with completion set for 2025.
Cary Developments: Downtown
Downtown will see several projects move forward this year.
Downtown Park Nears End of Phase 2
The final design of the downtown park’s phase 2 is nearing completion. Staffing and programming are now being planned along with public art. Early site construction of utilities and grading will begin soon with construction beginning this summer. Completion is expected to be in the summer of 2023.
The Walker to Finish Phase 1 in Summer 2022
Surrounding the parking deck at the downtown park at Walnut and Walker is a mixed-use development called The Walker. It will include 153 apartments, 100,000 square feet of ground-floor retail space, restaurants, and offices. They will begin pre-leasing this fall. Construction for the first phase is expected to be completed in the summer of 2022.
Old Library Site, Park Station, Urban Place
The old library site on Academy Street will remain as is until the construction of the downtown park’s phase 2 is complete. At that point, an RFQ will be issued, and redevelopment will be pursued.
Across from the downtown park on Park Street is Park Station which has about 30 townhomes under construction. Almost 75% of the permits have been issued and the project is about 50% complete.
Urban Place, which will have 28 apartments at the corner of Chatham Street and Urban Drive, is also under construction. This project is scheduled for completion in the fall.
Chatham Walk & Meridian East Chatham
Chatham Walk, which is on the opposite corner of Chatham and Urban, was completed at the end of December with a total of 33 condos. 31 of those condos have already been sold.
Meridian East Chatham, a mixed-use project on Chatham at Hunter that envisions a 5-story building with 220 apartments and 8,200 square feet of retail space, is in its second round of review.
As part of this development, several offsite improvements are also proposed including extending Hunter Street from Chatham Street on the south to Cedar Street on the north. In addition, there will be a water line replacement on Chatham Street at Hunter Street and a storm drainage improvement on Chatham Street.
Williams House Project & Rogers Development
The Williams House project, on East Chatham Street across from Mid-Town Square, features 7000 square feet of office and retail space. The project is preserving and incorporating the historic Williams House into the design. Construction is well underway and should be completed this year.
The Rogers development will be a mixed-use with 10,000 square feet of retail and 40,000 square feet of office. Located on the site of the old Rogers Motel and Restaurant on Chatham Street, and the adjacent parcel, the project includes a revamped Rogers Alley which will be designed to attract future outdoor activities. Plans for these exciting changes are currently under review by town staff.
‘The Center’ to Host New Restaurants
Under new ownership, the Center, which is an old retail strip center between East Chatham Street and Cedar Street, will be getting a much-needed facelift. Along with the improvements, there should be new tenants occupying the space this year including Di Fara’s Pizza and Hanks Downtown Dive.
The Jordan Project Reaches Early Design Phase
One of the largest projects on Chatham is at the corner of Harrison and Chatham and has been in the works for many years. The Jordan project includes partnerships with the First Baptist Church and the Town of Cary and will be a mixed-use development with 190 apartments, 70,000 square feet of ground-floor retail, and a parking deck. The project has been approved and is in the early design phase. Construction is expected to begin in 2022.
Capital Transportation Projects
We should see several town and DOT transportation capital projects move forward this year including 25 miles of street resurfacing that will begin in the spring.
The Morrisville Carpenter Road construction project from Davis Drive to west of NC 54 has begun. This project is scheduled to be finished in the summer of 2022.
The Carpenter Fire Station Rail Separation project is about 60% complete. The new bridge is scheduled to be completed in the summer of 2022.
The Reedy Creek Road widening is underway and is about 20% complete. This project requires careful coordination with the middle and elementary schools that have entrances on this road. Completion is expected in the summer of 2022.
The town will also begin several intersection improvements this year with completion scheduled in the first quarter of 2022. The Cary Parkway and Waldo Rood intersection and the High House and Jenks Carpenter are already underway. This spring the intersections at Kildaire Farm and Advent and the intersection at Waldo Rood and MacArthur will begin.
The Carpenter Fire Station Road widening is in its final design and is scheduled to begin construction early next year. A sidewalk along Louis Stephens is nearing design completion and should begin construction later this spring.
Recreation Projects On Horizon
Several key recreation projects will continue to move forward in 2021.
White Oak Greenway Tunnel
The White Oak Greenway Pedestrian Tunnel, which was completed in 2020, will have murals added soon. In 2020, Cary began working with a mural artist to create designs for the headwalls at the new greenway tunnel by Davis Drive Park. Work should begin on the murals in early this spring.
Higgins Greenway Extension
Cary began acquiring the right-of-way needed to extend Higgins Greenway from Union Street to Kildaire Farm Road as part of phase three. Two properties where the greenway will run adjacent to Hillcrest Cemetery have been purchased. Staff continues to work with other property owners on additional easements. $2.5 million in federal funds have been received for this project which is about 80% of the cost. We expect construction to begin later this year.
Town Buys Land for Open Space Preservation, Recreation
After a year’s effort, the town purchased 217.07 acres of former farmland along Earnest Jones Road in Chatham County. Cary plans to eventually use the land for recreational activities and open space preservation. It consists of woodlands, agricultural fields, and a portion of Indian and Turtle Creeks, and is located along Earnest Jones Road, between Yates Store Road and Mount Pisgah Church Road. It abuts a Town-owned site on New Hope Church Road and is close to the American Tobacco Trail.
Efforts to Preserve Cary History
Preserving Cary’s historic structures continues to be a priority.
On December 30, a 1.17-acre lot was conveyed to the town for the relocation site for the Nancy Jones House. This allows for the relocation process to move forward, including finalizing contracts, site preparation, and scheduling the date of the house move, which is anticipated to occur in the spring.
The new site was reviewed by the State Historic Preservation Office, which presented the report to the North Carolina National Register Advisory Committee. It was determined that the Nancy Jones House will remain on this National Historic Register of Historic Places even after the move.
Several properties will see work to preserve and stabilize buildings this year. These include the Barnabas Jones Farmstead adjacent to Jack Smith Park, the C.F. Ferrell Store and Warehouses, and Good Hope Farm.
Initial steps are underway toward preserving these buildings, such as stabilizing and weatherizing designated structures at each site, adding temporary paths for the public, improving security measures, and installing interpretive signage to provide visitors with an understanding of the historical significance of each site. Work is anticipated to continue throughout this year.
Boards and Committees to Lead the Way
Cary is blessed to have so many talented citizens who want to be engaged and involved in making their community better. This is especially true with our senior citizens. Last year the council created a Senior Advisory Board to tap into the wealth of knowledge they possess. Staff is working out the logistics and we should have our board up and running later this year. Our other boards and commissions made the transition to holding virtual meetings and continuing their work despite not being in person. Big thanks to all of our volunteers for their continued work.
Cary has been fortunate to have great leaders for the last several decades. Late last year Chris Simpson, town attorney since 2005, retired. During her time serving as our attorney, she was recognized by the North Carolina Bar Association with the Barrett Award for Excellence. She will be sorely missed. Lisa Glover has agreed to move into the role as the Interim Town Attorney. Council is currently in the search process and should begin interviews in the next few months. A new town attorney will be appointed later this year.
A new staff position was created last year which will have a significant impact on Cary’s initiatives to protect and preserve trees. Katie Rose Levin, a board-certified master arborist with a Masters of Forestry and Masters of Environment Management from Duke University, was hired to be the town’s forester. We expect great “green” things from her work.
Cary is very proud that council member Jennifer Robinson has been elected as the President of the North Carolina League of Municipalities. She has been a member of the Cary Council since 1999 and a member of the NCLM since 2013. Jennifer not only brings her wealth of knowledge and experience to the league but is a great ambassador for the Town of Cary.
Cary Celebrates 150 Years
Cary’s 150th anniversary, or sesquicentennial, will be on April 3rd, 2021 or 4/3/21. The 150th task force, created in 2018, has been planning celebrations to occur throughout the year to honor the Town’s past, engage citizens in the present, and excite people about its future.
Some plans have been shifted due to the pandemic, and the current line-up is looking exciting. At tomorrow night’s council meeting, council member Yerha will give a short presentation about our town’s founding. He will follow this with monthly historical moment presentations.
The first news release will go out on January 29th announcing a website that will have information and updates. There will be at least two large events with the first one, called A Day To Remember, in July. This will be followed by the Masquerade 150 Gala in November. Make sure to check the website starting on January 29th to get all the details.
Cary Ends 2020 with “Resilience, Strength, Courage”
The pandemic has wreaked havoc on so many in the world, our nation, our state, and our community. Many have suffered locally but we have done much better than other communities. This was no accident.
Thanks to the knowledge base and the careful planning of town manager Sean Stegall and his staff, we have found ways to continue to provide excellent service to our citizens while most communities in our region were cutting back.
It should be noted that the 1,200 Town of Cary employees did this, and continue to do this, at great personal risk and in my humble opinion, they are heroes. We are truly blessed to have some of the most committed, dedicated, and talented municipal professionals in the state.
Our citizens and our businesses have stepped up too. Data during the pandemic shows that, to date, we have had the lowest COVID infection rate in Wake county. That was because most of our citizens and businesses believed in science. We will need to continue to follow guidelines for many more months to come out stronger on the other side of this.
In closing, Cary has proven to be a resilient community. We have found the courage and strength to persevere. It is that courage and strength that will get us through the remainder of the pandemic safely. It is that courage and strength that will keep our economy robust. And it is that courage and strength that will keep us one of the greatest communities in the nation. Together, 2021 will be a year where we will make Cary better than ever.”
The 2021 State of Cary Address was written and presented by Cary Mayor Harold Weinbrecht. Photos were screen-captured from the live presentation of the address on Wednesday, January 27, 2021.
All the Cary news for the informed Cary citizen. Subscribe by email.