Downtown Park Plans Move Forward


Cary, NC – Downtown, across from Cary Arts Center, is a 13-acre assemblage of land called The Opportunity Site. That’s because it represents a significant opportunity for the community to put something useful in that space. Now, plans are moving forward to seize the opportunity and create a downtown park.

Designing The Opportunity Site

We recently wrote about Town Manager Ben Shivar’s presentation to the Heart of Cary Association on plans for the Opportunity Site. In that presentation, Shivar unveiled the results of a charrette with 11 designers. The charrette created a basic outline or loose plan that the town can now use as a guide when speaking with architects and developers to plan how the site will grow and develop.

[Editor’s Note: “Charrette” comes from the French, and means “chariot” or “cart.” A “charrette” was used to collect artwork from students at Ecole des Beaux-Arts in the late 19th century, as described by Emile Zola in his novel “L’Oeuvre.”]

Ed Gawf, Downtown Development Manager, is currently presenting the results of the charrette along with a brochure to interested area groups to get some feed back.

Downtown Park Plans

The response to the work already done has been favorable. One oft repeated comment was that folks feel we have had enough input sessions over the years, and many want to see something happen. Readers may recall that original plans for downtown included a performing arts center, a large parking deck, a sculpture park among other things.

This new guide makes room for a park to occupy 3-4 acres in the current area where there’s an open meadow. The Walker Street side may be developed with some apartments and town homes. The new Hotel will reside at the northwest corner along Park and Academy. There may be a permanent structure for the farmer’s market (such as exists in Durham or in Raleigh).

Gawf stressed that the park could get bigger if it needs to be and that the town will focus first and foremost on its creation. Priorities here are a water feature, maybe fountain, ponds, and interactivity. Many folks are hoping for an attraction such as a permanent skating rink, carousel or band stand. These are all under consideration.

Design considerations

  1. Breathing Space- room for informal uses, and space within the park
  2. Pedestrian Connections- both within the park and to the park.
  3. Parking- it is hoped that land purchased behind the library may serve as an off street lot. Or there may be some below ground parking.
  4. Keep historic Homes on Academy- there are 2 houses on the National Historic Register that are within the design area.
  5. Family Oriented- Cary is a town with young families, and the town wants to ensure they use the space.
  6. Formal Public space included.

Schedule to Move Forward

Nothing ever seems to move as fast as citizens would like. Below see the projected schedule for completion of the Downtown Park. Design team selection and site plan creation take time, actual construction will take approximately 1 year.

  • Spring 2013- Design Team selected
  • January 2014- Master Plan created for the park
  • Complete the Site Plan in 2014
  • Jan 2015- Initiate construction
  • Completion – by Lazy Daze (August) 2015

Take a look for yourself at the plans and the downtown design charrette. If you have an idea or a question, leave us a comment.


Downtown coverage on CaryCitizen is sponsored in part by the Heart of Cary Association meeting. HoCA meets the first Thursday of every month at the Matthews House in Downtown Cary, 8am.

10 replies
  1. Mike Jaquish
    Mike Jaquish says:

    I would like to see more “park” in the park plan/concept, and less development. It seems odd to assemble 13 acres to provide a third or less of that in park space.
    Also, I hope that the park space is greatly visible on two streets at least, possibly 3 streets.
    It isn’t Boston Commons or Dorothea Dix, but I would love to see that level of visual appeal and accessibility. Think of Walnut Street Park and Sears Farm Road Park, and there you have it.
    In 50–75 years, planners can be remembered for vision, or forgotten for creating something rather unremarkable in the Heart of Cary.

  2. Brent
    Brent says:

    One of the great things about Cary, in my opinion, is that the opportunity for citizen input is NEVER past. :-) And in this particular case, that’s definitely the case.

    What we’re seeing now is the result of a design charette for forming a master plan. It’s largely conceptual and it’s being publicized throughout the community. Detailed design is still a ways off.

    More information on the Town’s web page here: (see especially the link to the brochure here$!2c+Recreation+and+Cultural+Resources+Department/Planning+and+Design/DowntownPark/Charette+Brochure.pdf ).

    Contact Downtown Manager Ed Gawf — I know for a fact that he is soliciting input!

  3. Owen
    Owen says:

    Have all opportunities for citizen input already passed?

    In addition to things like the farmers market and amphitheater (which are of course great ideas) one thing I would love to see is an interactive fountain that kids can play in, like “Splashville” at Pack Square in Asheville.

    • Andy
      Andy says:

      I love the fountain idea as well. Kids would love it! I think of the one I see all the kids playing in when in downtown Charleston, SC. It just attracts families when it’s so hot in the summer.

  4. Owen
    Owen says:

    I’m looking forward to the downtown park but I’m not sure I like how it’s ringed on all sides by private development. I feel like the park will be invisible. I wish it had a public street along at least some of its sides rather than just the tiny street frontage at the “elbow” of Kildare Farm/Dry Avenue and a couple little accesses from the other streets. The space will have to be planned very carefully to minimize the “invisibility” effect and even then the results might not be as good as they could be.

    Here is my alternate plan: (Yes, I know, I’m one of those annoying Armchair Planners.)

    Something like this would acheive this. I threw in an extension of Dry Avenue to get rid of the annoying “elbow” once and for all, too. Thus the park has significant frontage on three major streets: Dry, Academy, and Walker, and a small connection to Park.

    • Owen
      Owen says:

      But let me reiterate that I am excited about the park and support it regardless of the configuration, but I just want it to be as good as possible.

      Perhaps the designers are hoping to create a “quad” environment like the Brickyard or something. While that layout works well for universities with thousands of captive pedestrians (students) who are required to get up and walk from class to class every 45 minutes, it would not work as well IMO for a park that aims to be a destination like this one. Moore Square in Raleigh is a good model to follow. It is a similar size and seems to serve a similar purpose to what we are planning for this park. It’s surrounded on all sides by streets, and is therefore very visible. The surrounding retail such as City Market still feels very closely connected to Moore Square even though it’s across the street.

      • Brent
        Brent says:


        Good, thoughtful comments. My understanding is that although there will be various developments around portions of the park, the planners are paying careful attention to ensuring that there are multiple welcoming entrances and multiple views into the park from various approaches. It’s always a bit difficult (for me, anyway) to visualize the result from a two-dimensional color-coded map plan.

        Like you, I’m excited about the new downtown park, agree it needs to be carefully planned and want it to be as good as possible. I’m glad we live in Cary where that is standard procedure!

    • Andy
      Andy says:

      I really like the idea of the Dry Ave. extension. Not much land lost and potentially better traffic flow?

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