The investors who bought Northgate Mall have scrapped their initial plans for a mixed-use project in favor of a life sciences-targeted research campus.
Northwood Retail revealed a new site plan in a virtual meeting Thursday night, attracting heavy scrutiny from residents who objected to housing being eliminated from the plan.
“We do not envision any residential at all in the project,” attorney Patrick Byker acknowledged early in the question-answer session.
Northwood’s vice president of leasing, Jonathan Stewart, said with inflation in building costs, they could no longer commit to the vision proposed in 2018 for a pedestrian-friendly center mixing retail, office and residential.
“Really it just comes down to economics,” Stewart said of the decision to pivot.
In the new plans for the 55-acre property, the mall would largely remain standing, though the former Sears Auto Center would come down, along with the parts of the mall connected to the former Macy’s department store.
Duke University owns the Macy’s wing. They paid $4.5 million for the former department store in 2017 with the intention to transform it into office space and medical clinics.
“What we envision is a major refresh of the interior and exterior. The mall structure would be completely gutted,” Stewart explained on the call.
A one-acre park would skirt the building and some restaurants and drinks spots could be built along the western edge.
They plan to renovate the shops on Guess Road that today house Planet Fitness, C&H Cafeteria and a handful of other tenants, leaving them as retail.
Community association demands not met
Walltown Community Association rallied residents to attend Thursday’s virtual meeting.
“Let the developers know you will not support any rezoning on the site until the developer addresses their obligations to the community,” they emailed.
The association has engaged hundreds of residents since 2018 to craft their own vision for the redevelopment, calling for affordable housing, a grocery store, community-oriented space, green space connecting to Walltown Park across Guess Road, and better stormwater infrastructure to address flooding along Ellerbee Creek.
Dozens of questions poured in from attendees Thursday night, but only the ones the developers answered were visible to the public.
Stewart said they hoped to be good neighbors.
“Change is hard. Change is hard for everyone,” Byker added. “There’s a natural fear of the unknown and we appreciate that. All I can tell you is that the input on this call has been very valuable and we look forward to building on it.”
Northwood bought the mall for $34.5 million in 2018 after moving to foreclose on it earlier the same year.
The mall has been on Club Boulevard just south of Interstate 85 since the 1960s. After years of bleeding tenants, the mall finally shuttered in May 2020.
Byker said they plan to ask for a rezoning from their current “commercial center” designation to a “commerical general” category to enable the new vision.
“Commercial general will allow us to build out, or renovate, the mall and convert it into a research and development life sciences campus,” Byker said.
That request — which has not yet been filed — would go to the Planning Commission and City Council for approval. Byker estimated two years could pass before any construction began.
Stewart said they do intend to put a grocery store there, but couldn’t guarantee it would happen..
“We ultimately don’t control it so there’s no way to commit to it,” Stewart said.
This story was originally published August 25, 2022 9:07 PM.
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