Fenton’s financiers spared no expense at the upscale shopping center’s grand opening “extravaganza” on Thursday.
The invitation-only event featured first-class food from acclaimed local caterers. Five open bars were scattered across the sprawling complex that teemed with wait staff, photographers, and entertainers resembling red-carpet socialites.
A handful of women in brightly colored dresses sported large metal hoop skirts dripping with flutes of champagne that attendees snagged as they milled about in the 90-degree heat.
As Fenton representatives addressed nearly 600 attendees gathered under a large tent, living statues — women bedecked in golden garb and perched on pedestals hidden by the length of their skirts — staked out the stage’s corners, moving only their arms.
There were marching band performances, dancers in butterfly costumes, a bright red hot air balloon, hundreds of flower arrangements, thousands of balloons and social media photo ops galore.
The party commemorated more than seven years of development on the 345,000-square-foot multiplex. Several of Fenton’s sections are still under construction, but its “main street” plaza, which includes many big-name retailers and restaurants, is now open to the public.
The $850 million project is one of the largest retail-driven developments in the country, according to Hines, the international real estate investor building Fenton in partnership with South Carolina’s Columbia Development. It covers a wide expanse of Cary Towne Boulevard near its intersection with I-40.
“Last night’s ribbon-cutting ceremony kicked off a weekend of celebrations to formally welcome the Triangle community to Fenton for the first time,” Paul Zarian, managing director at Hines, told The News & Observer.
“We were honored to host our partners, retail and office tenants, Town of Cary leadership and other stakeholders for a memorable evening that commemorated seven years of hard work and dedication to making Fenton a reality.”
The date also happened to be Cary Mayor Harold Weinbrecht’s 66th birthday, and as if the spectacle weren’t enough, the developers surprised him with a cake on stage ahead of a ceremonial ribbon-cutting.
“I’ve never had a couple hundred people sing me ‘Happy Birthday’ before,” Weinbrecht reflected in an interview, still laughing a day later.
Weinbrecht recalled the early meetings town council members had with the folks behind Fenton.
“Basically they were pitching a Wegmans,” he said. “And while that was attractive, it was not what we wanted to see.”
Weinbrecht said the state owned the land at the time and was pressuring Cary to find a suitable developer or the site would become a storage location for state vehicles. He said the developers went through 100 iterations before they arrived at the pedestrian-friendly, vertically-integrated design of Fenton.
“It’s the largest development in Cary history and we’re still not done. We’re only seeing phase one,” he said. “It’s supposed to be about the experience more than anything else.”
The party goes on
Fenton’s kickoff gala Thursday was the first of a four-day party. Friday’s festivities were also invitation only, but weekend events are open to the public.
Here’s what you can expect at Fenton’s grand opening weekend:
Saturday, June 4
- 8:30 a.m. to 10:15 a.m. Morning fitness on Fenton Square
- 8:30 a.m. to 9:15 a.m. Bootcamp with Athleta
- 9:30 a.m. to 10:15 a.m. Fitness class with Club Pilates
- 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Activities on Main Street and Fenton Square, including magic, scavenger hunts, balloon artists, face painters, food trucks, buskers, roller skaters, stilt walkers, a live DJ, chalk artists, Dram & Draught station
- 1 p.m., 1:30 p.m. Anastasia of Atlanta Bubble Show, magic and bubble experiences
- 3 p.m. to 3:45 p.m. Participate in a pop-up dance class led by celebrity TikTok creators Cost n’ Mayor and enjoy a dance performance by the dynamic duo
- 3:45 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Selfies and autographs with Cost n’ Mayor
- 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tethered hot air balloon rides. Donations benefit Read & Feed of Wake County.
Sunday, June 5
- 9 a.m. to 9:45 a.m. Morning fitness on Fenton Square with Lululemon
- 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sports-themed attractions throughout Fenton, including games of putt-putt
- 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. University of North Carolina’s mascot, Rameses, will be on site
- 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. Take penalty shots and selfies with NC FC and NC Courage soccer players, with donations benefiting Read & Feed of Wake County
- 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Meet Sir Purr of the Carolina Panthers and the Top Cats Cheerleaders
What’s open or opening soon?
Fenton’s first retailers — including Athleta, Sephora, Radiant Waxing, Southern Tide and Williams Sonoma — opened in May. On grand opening day, or by the end of June, visitors can expect a dozen additional options including Altar’d State, Club Pilates, Colletta, Dram & Draught, The Gatorbug, Honeysuckle Gelato, Lululemon, M Sushi, Nike, Paragon Theaters, Pottery Barn and Vestique, according to Hines.
More retailers, restaurants and service providers will open after the grand opening, a Fenton spokesperson said. They include Archer Paper Goods, Arhaus Furniture, Bailey’s Fine Jewelry, Boardroom Salon for Men, Crawford Brothers Steakhouse, CRU Food & Wine Bar, Free People, Madewell, One Medical, Sports & Social, Superica, Truist Bank, Truss Vet, Von Kekel Aveda Lifestyle Salon Spa and Fenton Nail Bar.
Zarian said the complex is already 90% leased. Apartments and a luxury hotel are also in the pipeline.
An ice-skating rink will open in the winter.
This story was originally published June 3, 2022 4:59 PM.
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