2017 R ena i s s anc e P l an U pdat e | T own of W ak e F or e s t
5.3.2 Central Area
While it has long served as Wake Forest’s Main Street, the historic core of South White Street took an important step forward with the opening of White Street Brewing in 2012. The buzz that it has generated since, combined with the town’s exponential rate of population growth, has helped to raise Wake Forest’s profile more broadly and put it on the radar screens of a wider range of prospective tenants. When they arrive in downtown, they find an enviable collection of sophisticated merchants, including B&W Hardware (in existence since 1949), Wake Forest Coffee Company (opened 2008), Pink Boutique (2014), Page 158 Books (2015) and Back Alley Coffee Roasters (2015), among others. As a result, there is no shortage of tenant demand for ground-floor retail space on South White Street. The problem is one of available inventory, with the tight supply resulting in asking rents that have reached as high as $32 per square foot. This rate is simply not sustainable for most of the businesses likely to be interested in today’s downtown Wake Forest. Some spaces should become available in the coming years as longtime merchants choose to retire. Other spaces are currently occupied by office uses, a number of them concentrated to the south of The Cotton Company, along a stretch that is particularly important to the aforementioned goal of strengthening the pedestrian connection with Renaissance Plaza.
There are also properties that require significant investment, either in the rehabilitation of existing buildings (e.g. “Birkenstocks Building” at East Jones Avenue; “Victorian Square” at Roosevelt Avenue) or the development of new ones (e.g. the vacant lot across White Street from The Cotton Company). These locations would undoubtedly command interest from prospective tenants. However, their respective property owners have thus far been unwilling and/or unable to proceed with specific plans for upfit, rehab or new development. Other than perhaps helping to identify a possible buyer or development partner, attention should be focused elsewhere until evidence of interest and/or capacity to move forward is apparent. Meanwhile, while new development along the proposed “festival street”, East Owen Avenue, is a possibility and ground-floor retail space would be encouraged there in order to further activate the public realm, the rental rates that would be needed to support new construction could be prohibitive for local small businesses. That remains to be seen, but if local entrepreneurs and authentic retailers are important to the people of Wake Forest, then the Town, stakeholders and property owners should be thinking of ways to help small businesses find a way to occupy space in new construction as it develops.
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