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First Look: Fenton debuts 350,000 sq. ft. of retail in the Research Triangle

Al Urbanski
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The $850 million first phase of Hines’s Fenton project, one of the largest retail-driven development projects in the country in the last five years, has opened in Cary in the heart of North Carolina’s Research Triangle.

Marching bands played and dazzlingly dressed women dispensed champagne from cocktail skirts to some 600 invited guests last week on opening day at the mixed-use community that has been under construction for seven years. Phase One presents some 350,000 sq. ft. of specialty and experiential retail, including a high-end Paragon movie theater.

“It was happiness all around,” said Hines managing direct Paul Zarian, a key mover of Fenton. “It was great to share our hard work with the people in the local community and create a place where they’ll want to spend a lot of time.”

One of the celebrants at the opening of the 69-acre site was Cary Mayor Harold Weinbrecht, who blew out the candles on a cake for his 66th birthday at the event. Weinbrecht recounted how the state, which owned the land before Hines bought it, was about to turn the site into a storage location for state vehicles unless Cary found a better option.

“It’s the largest development in Cary history and we’re still not done,” the Mayor told the Raleigh-Durham News & Observer. “It’s supposed to be about the experience more than anything else.

Zarian observed that Cary was the ideal location for such an ambitious project—a high-income suburban community along Interstate 40 with good schools in a highly accessible section of the Triangle.

“It has all those great employment fundamentals for the tenants in our office space,” Zarian said. “What was missing was an active and vibrant community center where the entire Triangle could congregate. Funnily enough, at the opening ceremonies, we did a drawing of three big prizes. One was won by a person from Cary, one from Raleigh, and one from Durham.”

Fenton’s list of retailers promises to provide a draw. They include Arhaus, Lululemon, Pottery Barn, Sephora, Free People, Madewell, One Medical, and Sports & Social.

Restaurant row, too, packs a star-studded punch. Mike Lee, owner-operator of the highly popular M Sushi restaurant in downtown Durham—turned down several pitches from Fenton leasing agents until he heard good things about the project from fellow top chef Scott Crawford.  Crawford Brothers Steakhouse and M Sushi now head the fine dining roster at the new center.

Other restaurants include chef Ford Fry’s elevated Tex-Mex eatery Superica and Charleston restaurateur Steve Palmer’s Northern Italian standout Colletta. Dram & Draught will ply visitors with more than 400 whiskeys, draft beer, and wine.

“This is a project unlike any I’ve been a part of because it had those local community orientations,” Zarian observed. “It’s gotten lots of eyeballs because it is retail-focused and the local chefs have created a lot of excitement.”

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