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Contractors Strike a Bargain With Cary, Agree to Rehab Roads

Wed August 09, 2000 - Southeast Edition
Ron Page

The 37,161-square-meter (400,000 sq. ft.) Centrum shopping center in Cary, NC, delayed by half a decade of regulatory setbacks, financing snarls, millions of dollars in road improvements, a town water shortage and then a clamp down on permits, has finally opened its first store.

But it was a battle right up to the opening for the contractors with further delays spurred by a hurricane, a record-setting two feet of snow, and late winter-early spring rains that turned normally hard-packed clay into spongy red mud. The original opening target date had been last year.

“We all know that soils are sensitive to moisture,” said Jay Vick project manager for Barnhill Contracting Company of Tarboro which handled all of the extensive site work that also included a new four-lane street and existing street widening. “But the weather put us at a virtual standstill.”

DJB Construction Group of Raleigh is the primary developer of the 21.4-hectare (53 acre) Centrum shopping center, located in an area which is quickly becoming one of North Carolina’s leading retail centers. Situated outside of Raleigh, directly across Walnut Street from Crossroads Plaza with its 1.2 million square feet of open-air shopping, Centrum joins a 2.8-mile stretch of roadway that includes Cary Towne Center, South Hills Mall and other smaller centers for a total shopping area of 3.5 million square feet — a level of retail commerce virtually unmatched in North Carolina.

The Centrum project won town approval on the condition that developers improve the roads through the fast-developing but crowded area. Vick explained his firm was selected to widen the heavily-traveled Walnut Street to six lanes, being in charge of the west side of the roadway adjacent to the center. C.C. Mangum of Raleigh had the contract for the opposite side. Thousands of travelers make their way up and down the roadway each day. Barnhill added left- and right-hand turn lanes into the shopping hub, also extending Dillard Drive to Piney Plains Road, as well as extending Meeting Street, which runs between the adjacent Lowes and Circuit City stores, to Piney Plains Road.

“Literally dozens of pieces of roadway and surface equipment were used,” Vick explained, “from open bowl scrapers, dozer-behind models, as well as self-elevating scrapers which load themselves.” He said rotorgraders were important in clearing the center property itself, as well as bulldozers and rollers used to prepare for the foundations, retaining walls, and multi-level buildings, plus track excavators for laying storm drains and pavers later for the off-site road improvements.

“We ran the gamut in styles and makes, including Caterpillar, John Deere and Komatsu, with, I’d estimate, the most machinery being Caterpillars. The bottom line, however, was that equipment operators had to wait until the soil dried enough before work could resume,” said Vick.

DJB Project Manager Bobby Waller agreed the weather played havoc with everyone concerned. “Workers couldn’t get to the job site when the snow hit,” he explained, and actual construction of the buildings was held back because the site crews first faced a hurricane, followed by snow, heavy rains and freezing temperatures.

DJB was contracted to build eight of the 25 buildings that are included in the center, with construction materials the same in all, basically concrete, some steel structure, some wood trusses, and exterior metals.

The initial packaging of the Centrum property started in 1994 and it took two years for the town to rezone it for retail use. After gaining wetlands approval, the original owner sold it to the present owner, Buckley/Shuler of Atlanta, GA, who won overall approval for the project by agreeing to extend an adjacent major roadway, Dillard Drive, to Piney Plains Road which runs behind the shopping center and pay $250,000 to the town for other road construction.

When the new roads are completed in about two years, almost 150 acres will be open to development. While most of the lane is zoned for residential construction, Cary’s long-range plan calls for offices or apartments.

The conditions the Town of Cary placed on Centrum were tougher than usual, said Ricky Barker, the town’s director of development review.

“We would mostly make them do their side of the road widening. In this case, they’re doing both sides,” he added. And those conditions were made before any Centrum tenant got its town CO. Further off-site road widening was another regulation.

Steve Shuler, Buckley/Shuler president, said the road construction ran somewhat behind the building construction. “We had to spend a good bit of money to rock (Dillard Drive), as opposed to leveling it out just to go ahead and get it done,” he said.

The road improvements, town planners said, were necessary to handle the additional traffic Centrum would bring to Walnut Street. Some of the surrounding undeveloped land is already spoken for. Land clearing is already under way for an apartment complex on 83 acres west of Centrum on Piney Plains Road. West of the road, plans have been filed for an automobile center, and immediately south of Centrum is another 28 acres that probably will hold new offices.

Several dates were passed by for the issuance of CO’s to stores as road crews rushed to finish necessary road work. Matthew Moore Jr., manager at JoAnn Fabric and Crafts, had his inventory on the shelves for weeks. He tried to put a positive outlook. “Of course, it wouldn’t have been safe to have customers coming through here if there was still work going on,” he said.

“All of this development will add to the congestion on Walnut Street. But for the shop owners, the traffic means shoppers,” said Julie Somer, a spokeswoman for BJ’s Warehouse Club, which was one of the first Centrum occupants to open.

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