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January 2005
Community Profile


Cary chose smart growth and
culture over sprawl and still
doubled its population every
decade since 1960

By Allan Maurer

Fireworks explode over the Koka Booth Amphitheater in Regency Park.

Learn more
Becoming a major force in amateur sports
Stop in downtown Cary for a freshly-squeezed orangeade and a chicken salad sandwich at the Ashworth Drug Store’s soda fountain, and you’ll feel transported to another time. Outside, 300-year-old trees line the streets, a variety of traditional and abstract public art beckons the eye, and homes and businesses remain on a charmingly human scale with nary a highrise to be seen. You might never guess that Cary is North Carolina’s seventh largest city with 107,000 residents and 6,000 businesses.

When Cary won Money Magazine’s 2004 designation as the “best place to live on the East Coast,” the chamber asked Ellen McGrit, the author of the piece, how it happened. “I wish I could take credit for discovering Cary,” she told them, “But it was the numbers and demographic gods who decided to point their fingers at you.”

Cary’s demographics are indeed impressive. Money Magazine sought towns with above average home prices and residents with above average income and education. It certainly found them in Cary: a whopping 67 percent of Cary’s adult residents earned college degrees and 23 percent have graduate degrees. Its population is among the most technologically connected in the nation, with 90 percent having Internet access at home or work, twice the U.S. average.

The median household income in 2003 topped $75,000 (highest in Wake County) and more than 70 percent of its households earn above $50,000 a year. The median price of homes is $200,000, with 36,800 units located within Cary’s 48 square miles.

But what distinguishes Cary most as a place is that it merges the pleasures of small town life with the amenities of a city. Despite a swelling population that doubled every decade since the 1960s, Cary regularly makes a list of the top ten safest places to live in America and is deemed safest in the Southeast. It’s located just off busy I-40, yet has been named the “bike friendliest community” in the Triangle. Pollstar magazine recently listed the 7,000-seat, $12.5 million Koka Booth outdoor amphitheatre located among 20 acres on Symphony Lake as among the nation’s best. Yet the town remains justly proud of the award-winning hometown Cary High School band.

Adjacent to Research Triangle Park on its northwest border and Raleigh to the east, Cary is only minutes from Raleigh Durham International Airport and three world-class research universities. Its ideal location helped attract major industries from SAS to John Deere, Cotton Inc, MCI, and Oxford University publishing, with new companies moving in regularly. R.H. Donnelley, one of the largest publishers of Yellow Pages directories, moved its headquarters from Kansas to Cary in December. Qualcomm also opened a Cary office late in 2004 to design chips for its mobile phones. Aqua America recently announced it would open a call center in Cary, and startup Opticality, which makes 3D display screens that don’t require special glasses, said it would move its headquarters from New York here.

While, as Mayor Ernie McAlister notes, “the economic development efforts that have gone into bringing jobs into Cary are legendary,” the town pays equal attention to protecting its quality of life. It boasts 20 first-class parks, numerous greenways, and large sports facilities for tennis, baseball, and soccer. It so tree friendly that it recently won its 20th Tree City award. Cary has such a variety of public art that McAlister says “I don’t have any trouble standing in front of a different art work every time I do a TV interview.”

Planning for Quality Growth
Below: The SAS atrium on its 200-acre Cary campus
 is the largest in North Carolina

Cary did not have to win all those awards for its leaders and residents to know it’s a great place to live, work and raise a family. They planned it that way. Jeff Ulma, Cary director of planning, says the process of looking ahead to ensure quality development in Cary “is ingrained in our culture. The community is really involved. Expectations were established years ago when we said we wanted to be different, to be concerned about aesthetics and ensuring a high quality of life. We’re building on the foresight of town leaders when Cary was small.” Howard Johnson, president of the Cary Chamber agrees. “We’re reaping the benefits of infrastructure and planning going back to the 1960s,” he says.

Cary’s growth really gained momentum when RTP evolved in the 1950s, attracting IBM and other industries. “RTP is the goose that laid the golden egg,” says Johnson. The Cary Chamber, which shut down during the Great Depression, reformed in 1962, making Jordan Hall, Cary’s first community center, it’s initial project. It promoted Cary with the slogan, “Where better living begins,” which remains apt today. In 1977, the town launched its balanced growth strategy.

Cary rolled out an industrial red carpet in the 1980s, altering its zoning regulations to give developers flexibility in choosing sites for new businesses and industries. It created industrial performance districts, now called planned unit developments or PUDs, to manage growth. They made more land available to industry but imposed strict rules on generous setbacks and buffers. The PUDs require mixed use development that includes residential, commercial, shopping and community projects.

That led to the development of wooded, spacious office, residential and industrial parks. MacGregor was the first of many developments constructed during the following decades, followed by Kildaire Farms, Weston, Preston, Regency, Lochmere, and Crossroads. The now mostly-full 400-acre office and industrial MacGregor Park includes the MacGregor Village Shopping Center and industries such as Merisel, Borg Warner, Lord Corp., and Siemens Medical.

The 237,000-square-foot Weston One arrived in 1988 with IBM as an anchor tenant and a 1,000-acre award-winning park. Now Weston’s more than 100 tenants include five of Wake County’s largest employers. They include MCI WorldCom, Intel, Hewlett Packard, Cotton Inc., Verizon Wireless, the North Carolina Bar Association and Keebler. They occupy 3 million-square-feet and employ 7,000 people. About 141,000 square feet of space is still available in two existing Weston buildings and three more proposed buildings would add 284,800 square feet of additional space.

The 700-acre office and residential Regency Park borders Symphony Lake, Hemlock Bluffs Nature Preserve and the Koka Booth Amphitheatre.

Preston includes Prestonwood Country Club with its 45-hole championship golf course, residential neighborhoods, and Preston Corners, a 44-acre shopping and service center. One local official quips that “It’s our Wall Street,” because of a confluence of bank branches at the High House Road and Cary Parkway intersection.

At the Intersection of U.S. 64 and I-440, the 265-acre Crossroads Corporate Park, which has no residential, is home to a shopping center and about 25 tenants, including EDS, Piedmont Natural Gas, and the Wake County School System, which occupies 75,000 square feet. Jimmy Barnes, president of NAI Carolantic Realty, which manages and leases Crossroads, says the Park is about 75 percent leased, but has land available for an additional 500,000 square feet of office space, with prices at about $250,000 an acre. “There’s still quite a bit of office availability in the Cary market,” Barnes says, “but we’re seeing some absorption and expect that to continue through 2005. Cary is going to continue its growth pattern because of its amenities and location.”

“MacGregor Park and Regency Park, and the others are tremendous employment centers that continue to grow,” says McAlister.

Keeping a Village Atmosphere
The Lazy Daze Arts & Crafts Festival draws hundreds of exhibitors and 60,000 people to downtown Cary the fourth Saturday in August

Still, as the town’s population ballooned and it grew larger than Asheville and Wilmington, it held onto its small town feel both downtown and as a community. It literally plans to keep it that way. “Cary is a city with a village atmosphere,” says Stephen Zaytoun, 47, president of Zaytoun & Associates Insurance Agency and treasurer and member of the NCCBI executive committee and board of directors. “Cary has 100,000 people, but everywhere you go, you see someone you know,” he says.

Railroad ties connect Cary’s future to its past. When the North Carolina Railroad added a stop at the sleepy rural village in 1854, it transformed the town’s destiny. Frank Page and his wife Catherine erected a hotel near the tracks in 1868 and the state legislature incorporated the town in 1871. Page, the town’s first postmaster, mayor, railroad agent, business developer and employer, was also a fierce foe of alcohol. So he named it after fellow temperance advocate and former Union general Samuel Fenton Cary, who had recently lectured in Raleigh. Cary may be the only town in the Southeast named after a Union Civil War general, according to the Page-Walker Art and History Center.

A statue of Walter Hines Page, Frank’s son, who distinguished himself as an author and diplomat, stands outside the center. He served as ambassador to Great Britain from 1913 to 1918 and is one of only two Americans honored with a tablet in England’s Westminster Abbey. The Page Walker Center, located in the original, renovated Page Hotel building, appropriately connects its displays of Cary history along a railroad track timeline. Those tracks lead straight to Cary’s future.

 Cary expects the coming lightrail station to transform its downtown circa 2008, city leaders say. “We were a railroad town originally,” says McAlister, “and to complete that loop, to have that vital link to Research Triangle Park and Raleigh is going to mean a lot to us. Having the station right in the middle of Cary is going to be huge. It will define the type of development that occurs downtown because people want to live close to the station. It will be very good for businesses downtown now and those coming in the future.”

Among downtown revitalization plans already on the drawing boards: a multi-story parking deck, and traffic roundabouts. They also include multi-story housing, mixed-use developments, and an insistence on retaining a small town feel, even with a city-sized population. “As Cary grows over the next 20 years, you’ll see it looking a lot like it does today,” says McAlister. “The pace of growth here takes a backseat to the quality of growth. Whether you grow quickly or slowly is immaterial if you know where you’re going. With a good plan in place, you know where you’ll wind up. It’s clean, it’s green and it’s the way a town ought to grow.”

John Powell, president of Powell Properties Inc. and chairman of the Cary Chamber, notes that Cary’s downtown “is beautiful and quaint, but it’s not a large area. In the next five to ten years, it will be totally upgraded. We’ll have to use land wisely and go vertical with development.” The downtown plan for the core 1.5 square miles allows buildings of five or six stories – but no more than that – in the highest density, mixed use area of 141 acres out of 782. That core area centers on Academy and Chatham Streets and the new town hall and buildings. “The town is investing a lot of money ($33.3 million) in its own campus, in new buildings, council chambers, and a parking deck,” Powell notes. “That encourages neighboring properties to consider upgrading as well.”

Town Manager William Coleman adds, “The town has put a lot of effort in developing a new plan for downtown and our vision for its future.”

Ulma says that once the downtown area is fully built-out according to plans, it will have 2,300 more dwellings, 5,700 additional people, 3 million additional square feet of non-residential development and 8,000 more jobs. It may even end up with its own Town Center Park, but that project is still being discussed.

Different But Still the Same

Many of Cary’s longtime residents, such as Powell, here since 1967, remember when its only traffic signal was at the intersection of Chatham and Academy Streets where Ashworth’s drug store is located. Indicative of the changes since, Cary now has 120 traffic lights undergoing a $9 million high tech synchronization that requires 80 miles of fiber optic cable, making it the most advanced system in the state. Cameras atop 23 tall poles will monitor key intersections so city engineers can change signals to improve traffic flow and citizens can tune into traffic images on a Cary TV channel or web site. The city says the high tech signals will help save gas and reduce pollution. Red light cameras intended to reduce accidents are already installed at five intersections and 11 more are planned. “Traffic is a big issue around here,” notes Coleman.

But not everything has changed. Ashworth’s Drug Store, which Powell cites as his favorite spot in town for its orangeade, hot dogs, and friendly atmosphere, still sits on the corner of Chatham and Academy. Daphne Ashworth says her pharmacist husband Ralph walked into the store one day in 1957, looking for another drug store he heard was for sale. The owner, asked if it were for sale, said, “It wasn’t, but it is,” and soon after, Ashworth’s became an enduring Cary landmark.

Zaytoun, whose family moved to Cary in 1970, recalls, “I worked for Ralph Ashworth when I was in high school. It was my first job.” But he says that’s not the only thing that’s remained much the same even after the town added 90,000 residents in the 1990s alone. “I went to a Cary High School game the other night and it still had the same flavor and atmosphere as 30 years ago,” Zaytoun says.

Cary’s schools are part of the Wake County system, which is among the best in the nation, with 87 percent of its graduates heading on to college. Founder Frank Page built the Cary Academy, the town’s first school, in 1870 on the current site of Cary Elementary, which later became the state’s first high school. The town recently purchased the historic building and may turn it into a community arts center, although discussions continue on how to best use the site.

 Cary also has five private schools. Cary Academy, a college preparatory school for grades 6-12, sends 100 percent of its graduates onto higher education. Founded in 1996 with financial support from SAS founders Jim Goodnight, John Sall and their wives, it sits on 52 acres of land donated by SAS. The school had 672 students in 2003-2004. It focuses on computer learning and served as a breeding ground for SASinschool software.

Cary Christian School, which had 503 students last year, up from 190 in 2000, is building a new campus because of its growth.

The Wake Technical Community College Business and Industry Center, housed in a three-story 16,000-square-foot building just outside Cary Parkway, serves 1,000 students a week. “Our focus is to help people become more valuable to themselves, their employers and their community through education and training,” says Wayne Loots, dean of business and industry services. The center offers a variety of curriculum, adult and continuing education programs ranging from BioNet and BioWorks, which train people to work in the pharmaceutical and biotech industries, to courses in how to start a business and introductions to computers taught in Spanish for the area’s significant immigrant population.

Zaytoun attributes Cary’s ability to blend urban amenities, and employment opportunities with that village feel to some enlightened and visionary leadership. Cary’s proximity to Raleigh, RTP, universities, and the airport led one writer interviewing then-Mayor Koka Booth in 1994 to attribute its growth to “location, location, location.” Booth replied, “What about vision, vision, vision?” Zaytoun quotes Booth on how he feels about Cary.

Booth, mayor from 1987-1999, said he wanted to have a town where his children and grandchildren would enjoy living and working. Zaytoun sees that as a reality in his own experience. He returned to Cary after graduating from UNC-Chapel Hill in 1980, and now, he says, “My kids are in college but they’re looking at coming back here.”

Pushing Steadily Westward

Downtown for all its charms is only a small part of Cary’s 48 square miles. Its plans, like its land, stretch to its northeast corridor where it meets RTP and to its western edges. The plans include provisions for retaining open space, for affordable housing, for parks, and for retail and industrial development. Since 1999, Cary has budgeted nearly $500 million in infrastructure projects, including $159 million for transportation; $101 million for parks, recreation and cultural resources; $10.5 million for fire; $87 million for sewer; and $135 million for water. Yet Coleman notes that that, so far, growth in revenue has paid for increased service levels. “The way our revenue is structured, there is almost a one-to-one correlation between revenue growth and population growth,” Coleman says.

He notes that “Cary has had the same tax rate for the last 14 years of 42 cents per $100 of valuation,” but notes, “the valuations are fairly high.” Cary’s longterm plan includes provisions to have 20 to 25 percent rental or single family affordable housing, Coleman says.

Needing to slow the blistering pace of growth without stifling economic development, Cary chose to manage future growth via infrastructure. It requires that adequate water, transportation and schools be available before additional development is permitted as it pushes its border steadily westward. A second rail station is planned for northwest Cary near RTP, and Cary expects that to be another core development area. “We expect to build 10,000 residences there in the next 10 to 15 years,” says Mayor McAlister, “but it won’t be done haphazardly.”

Retaining open space and wooded areas has long been part of Cary’s plans. Since 1980, the town has built 10 greenways with names such as Pirate’s Cove and Symphony Lake Trail, usually along wooded stream floodplains, to provide open space within walking distance of homes. Zaytoun notes that “Walking the Hemlock Bluffs Nature Preserve you feel like you’re in the wilderness.” Twenty small neighborhood parks and larger metro parks and community facilities have playgrounds, athletic fields, and open play areas. Seven staffed facilities provide leisure programs in the arts, history, nature, recreation and sports.

Each year the Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources Department hosts more than 50 events, concerts, and festivals. Its catalog of activities runs to 145 pages. The Lazy Daze street festival, the largest event, draws 60,000 attendees and 600 arts and crafts exhibitors, in a daylong celebration that includes live bands and contests in August. Its Spring Daze Arts & Crafts Festival in April also draws hundreds of exhibitors.

Cary Band Day features the largest high school band competition in the South in November. Cary’s own high school band has won many competitions and performed at the Rose and Orange bowl games, the Kentucky Derby, presidential inaugurations and throughout Europe.

Cary hosts tennis, basketball, golf and other amateur sporting events throughout the year (see sidebar, page 28) that will soon include USA Baseball’s national team selection trials and training, and the for the next two years the state amateur games.

The area’s growth is also reflected in the continuing expansion of its medical facilities. Population growth led the Wake Med Hospital in Cary to expand from 80 beds when it opened in 1991 to 114 today. It just completed an $80 million expansion and renovation that tripled the size of the hospital. Its eight-bed women’s pavilion and birth center expanded to 26 beds and 2,200 babies were born there last year. It operates a 24-hour emergency department and a busy surgery center, sleep center, and cardio-pulmonary diagnostics center.

Rex Healthcare’s Cary campus off Cary Parkway and Lake Pine Drive includes “a multitude of out-patient services,” says David Coulter, vice president of operations. The Rex complex includes a physicians office building, a wellness center, and private doctors’ offices running the gamut from pediatrics to surgical practices. Close to 10,000 patients a year come through, Coulter says. The latest building went up at the eight-year-old site 15 months ago and includes four same-day surgery rooms. It recently added a CT scanner and will add an MRI scanner in about a year. Coulter notes that the Rex wellness center’s water aerobics program is growing and fills six classes a week, with users “a little older than your typical fitness center, most in their early 50s.”

Becoming a Global Destination

Although Cary has often been called a bedroom community, it’s more a hub of activity in its own right, these days. Just under a third of Cary’s population now works within city limits, while many people from the surrounding communities of Apex, Morrisville, Durham and Raleigh commute to Cary to work.

 “We haven’t been a bedroom community for a long time,” says McAlister. He points not only to the aforementioned SAS Institute Inc., the world’s largest privately-held software company, but also to MCI WorldCom, IBM, John Deere, Lucent Technologies, Siemens, and other major firms in Cary as evidence. The town’s 6,000 businesses include Fortune 500 companies, U.S. and world headquarters, franchises and hundreds of locally owned small businesses.

SAS, founded in 1976, is in some ways a microcosm of Cary itself in the way it combines size with personal touches. The 200-acre SAS campus off Harrison Avenue sits on 1,000 acres of surrounding land. It boasts its own medical building with three fulltime doctors. Other buildings house a huge cafeteria, recreational facilities that include exercise equipment and an aquatics center it shares with nearby Cary Academy. The company boasts that most of its people work in individual offices rather than cubicles. Sculpture dots the SAS landscape as it does in Cary’s downtown, where SAS President and CEO Jim Goodnight and his wife Ann help support Cary Visual Art Inc. Goodnight and wife are also financing construction of the150-room Umstead luxury hotel project on the SAS campus.

SAS regularly makes Fortune Magazine’s list of the best companies to work for in America and Working Mother’s best places to work lists. Among other amenities, its 4,000 or so Cary employees have an endless supply of company provided M&Ms and a building where they can get a haircut or clothes tailored at a discount. Yet all of this is good business: SAS, which earned $1.34 billion in revenue in 2003, estimates it saves as much as $75 million a year in retraining costs because its turnover rate is only 3 percent a year, far below the software industry’s 20 percent average.

“As a global company with headquarters in Cary, this is an ideal location for us,” says Goodnight, “because of a near-perfect blend of factors important to a successful business—high quality talent, close proximity to a major airport, and excellent quality-of-life. Getting people to move to Cary to work for SAS is usually pretty easy and an important part of that sell is our location.”

John J. Jenkins, president of the John Deere Co. worldwide commercial & consumer equipment division says, “Cary has consistently made the top ratings as the best place to live, work and raise a family. All these factors were very important to us during our location selection and we have not been disappointed. We find a wonderfully diverse culture here.”

Becoming a Major Force in Amateur Sports
When it comes to amateur sports, Cary knocks the ball out of the park. And it’s reputation as a hotbed for amateur athletics is about to burn even brighter.

North Carolina will hold its state amateur games there in June for the next two years. By 2007 USA Baseball will open four fields of dreams for selecting and training the elite young amateur players who will represent the nation in World Cup, Pan Am and Olympic games.

“Cary is regarded as a leader in amateur sports in North Carolina,” says John Powell, chairman of the Cary Chamber of Commerce and president of Powell Properties. “The facilities Cary has are second to none.”

He points to the SAS Soccer Park, its cross-country course, and the 30-court Cary Tennis Center as examples. “They’re all the best in the United States,” Powell says.

Cary recently held its first sports marketing summit to tout its growing reputation as an amateur sports venue to about 60 attendees. Cary owns the tennis center and its parks and recreation department manages the SAS Soccer Park, which is owned by Wake County. It also has a skateboarding course.

“These sporting events have a tremendous economic impact,” says Powell. “People stay overnight in the hotels, spend money with various merchants. People who come to the events realize this place is beautiful and well maintained. The town has invested millions.”

Mary Henderson, director of the Cary Parks and Recreation Department, which has a yearly budget of $7 million, notes “Youth sports bring people to town. The Raleigh Convention and Visitors Bureau says they account for the greatest number of nights visitors spend in Wake County hotels.”

The 23-event state games held in June at an Olympic style festival will bring more than 12,000 athletes and coaches to Cary in addition to hordes of spectators in 2005 and 2006.

Mayor Ernie McAlister says that strong corporate support helps Cary put on its events. “We recently spoke to SAS about an event the town wanted to do at the Cary Tennis Center that needed a corporate sponsor. They said they would be happy to work with us on that, and then, unsolicited, added that they knew we were bidding to have the state amateur games here and would like to be a sponsor of that.”

Cary already hosts the Jimmy V Celebrity Golf Classic, which honors the late Jim Valvano, coach of the 1983 national champion N.C. State basketball team and ESPN commentator. The event, a major fund-raiser for the V Foundation for cancer research, draws 20,000 spectators to watch celebrities play at Prestonwood Golf Club.

Prestonwood is one of three golf courses in Cary, which also include MacGregor Downs Country Club and Lochmere, with more than half a dozen others within a 15-mile radius.

In April, 1,000 runners fill the streets around Cary High School in a 10K marathon. In September, there’s both the Cary Towne Tennis Tournament and the Hot Hoops Basketball Tournament.

USA Baseball chose Cary as the permanent home for its national training center over 10 other suitors, says Paul Siler, executive director. “We looked at the flights in and out of the airport, which are good here, the community and corporate support and decided it was the perfect niche for a lot of things we needed from a business standpoint,” he says. Siler adds that the opportunity to play national games at one of the finest minor league operations in the country, the Durham Bulls stadium, also played a role. “Cary is already a hotbed of amateur sports and a hotbed for baseball,” Siler says. The town hosts pony league softball and other events at its well kept fields in addition to baseball games.

But Cary itself proved a magnetic draw, he says. “Cary does things on a first-class basis,” Siler notes. “They have an outstanding leaders, in the Parks and Recreation Department and right up to the mayor. They’re a pleasure to work with. Everything in the community is geared to quality of life. They maintain their facilities at a high level. They take their time, think things out and make good decisions for the taxpayers, which I appreciate, since I’m living here now.”

USA Baseball is constructing four fields at Thomas Brooks Park, where four softball fields already exist. “We’re hoping for a summer 2006 opening, but 2007 definitely,” Siler says.

At the Cary sports summit, Siler pointed out that people in a community “ride by a park and take it for granted, but a lot of work and effort goes into maintaining them so that they’re great places to go to. They’re all reasons why we chose to relocate in Cary,” he says. “We’ve never looked back. This is a longterm deal. We’re signing a 20-year contract with Cary. We think somewhere down the road, Cary can become synonymous with the USA National Baseball Training Center.”  -- Allan Maurer


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