Retail Remix

In 2022, Buzz, March 2022 by Melissa HowsamLeave a Comment

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Unfurling in April with food & bev as its focus, Fenton is primed to change consumer habits.

If you build it they will come? If we were the betting kind, our money’s on yes—and we’re going all in. The first major retail center to be built from the ground up in Wake County in the last 20 years, behemoth Fenton—all 92 acres of it—is changing the game and redefining the way we plan and use mixed-use concepts—think retail, restaurant, residential. 

Instead of setting its initial focus on a Goliath corporate anchor or tech HQ to bring the workers, or sexy retail brand to bring the shoppers, or hip hotelier to lure the visitors with a luxe place to rest their heads, the team behind the monumental Fenton development leaned into and doubled down on food and bev as the anchor tenants—specifically a local and regional mix of the biggest players to establish the brand, says codeveloper Paul Zarian, managing director at global real estate firm Hines—and, ultimately, bring the patrons and more big-name participants. 

In partnership with Columbia Development and USAA, Hines’ first Fenton lease, after all, was a two-story iteration of uberpopular local whiskey bar Dram & Draught, followed quickly by a fab four of local and regional culinary titans.

Perhaps it doesn’t seem as revolutionary as it is at first thought. After all, when you think of modern mixed-use developments, your mind no doubt goes to North Hills, which arguably first put Raleigh on the map as the urban player it is today, razing the outdated big-box mall while earning Midtown its moniker with a nod to bigger players like Atlanta and New York. And, clearly, North Hills serves up a slew of highly esteemed crowd-pleasing sip and sup spots—from Level7’s rooftop and Capital Grille to Vita Vite, Coquette and Rosewater, etc. But when Kane Realty Corporation first repurposed the then-revolutionary North Hills in 2001, it was conceptualized around a “Main Street” with primo walkability and driven by a successful mix of local and national brands. North Hills didn’t deem food and bev as its lynchpin. In essence, we hadn’t yet come to the realization as a culture that, as Zarian notes, restaurants and bars excite people most.

Likewise popular and walkable Village District—nee 1949 as Cameron Village shopping center—has no doubt seen many iterations from its hip nightlife underground days to those famed blue awnings to what we know today. Its very promenade layout gave it the breathing room it needed to lean into cultural shifts—swapping stores in and out as trends and times changed, updating edifices, and having the real estate to encircle it with proximal high-rise residences boasting luxe amenities.

And while our last big-box mall Crabtree (which just went on the market—and is viewed as a hot commodity) has so far won its heavyweight fight to remain relevant by bringing in big players like Brio and Uncle Julio’s, other malls across the country have been relegated to obsolescence–even memed and compared to other “obsolete” social media platforms: “Facebook is like the mall: It was a cool place to hang out when we were teenagers, but now it’s a decaying monument to the past; I return there sporadically to shop and see elderly people get in fights.”

While Crabtree lives on to champion itself as one of America’s top malls in rapidly changing times, Fenton enters the market as our city’s first foray into the future of mixed-use. And they’re betting we’re hungry for it.

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