RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — According to the last census, the Raleigh metro area is the 14th fastest growing in the country and the fastest in the state.
That’s something developer John Kane knows all too well.
He’s best known for transforming North Hills into what it is today. Now, with projects now extending into downtown Raleigh, he’s playing a big part in shaping the future of the capital city.
Kane gave CBS North Carolina evening anchor Sean Maroney a tour around growing North Hills and spoke candidly about the changes and challenges Raleigh faces.
“[North Hills] was the first mall built between (Washington) D.C. and Atlanta back in the late sixties,” Kane recalls.
He stands just outside the door of his second-floor office in one of several mixed-used buildings on the Main District campus of North Hills. As he speaks, he studies a black and white framed photograph hanging on the wall. The picture shows the North Hills mall back in 1970, the site where his office now sits.
“This must have been the day after Thanksgiving or something,” Kane says with a chuckle and points to the packed parking lot in the picture. “It’s full, looks like every parking space is taken.”
Decades before his company Kane Realty Corp. came in to redevelop this area between downtown Raleigh and the Outer Loop, parking lots surrounded the mall.
Now the hustle and bustle of shops, restaurants and residents fill the area.
Kane bought the property nearly 20 years ago, just miles from a busy Crabtree Valley Mall.
When asked if he was nervous about the investment, he says, “Oh no, the demographics here are incredible. They’re really good.”
“The [North Hills] mall was failing because it really didn’t keep up with what people were looking for today,” he added.
And the area seems to have what they want. Wake County grows by 62 new residents a day — most of them in Raleigh.
Kane says he tries to do, what he calls, “recycle” properties into urban hubs. That means building up and packing more into each space, while also making room for common areas and art.
Kane first took over in 1999 what today is North Hill’s Lassiter District. Two years after that, he was approached to take over the Main District, which had the failing mall and was sitting on ground polluted by a gas station.
Now all that’s left of that mall is JCPenny, one of the first anchor stores from back then.
“They’ve got another five or so years to go on their lease,” Kane says standing outside JCPenny. “We will tear that building down, as well as the old deck that’s behind that, and we will redevelop that area with more of what you see here.”
After more than a billion dollars in new construction and improvements, North Hills now extends across and down Six Forks Road with its Park District and nearly 35 more acres Kane’s company acquired this year.
It’s an expansion that he says he didn’t see coming initially.
“It really has kind of evolved as we were able to buy, put more land together and kind of broaden the vision so to speak,” Kane explains.
But some feel left out. A big concern is traffic.
Kane says they have plans to widen roads, add left turn lanes even bike lanes and explore more ways to ease those concerns.
He also is a major supporter of the Durham-Wake Commuter Rail Project, modeled after the light rail system in northern Virginia.
It would run 37 miles between Garner, downtown Raleigh, Cary, RTP and Durham.
One of his latest projects, the 17-story mixed-used building “The Dillon” in downtown Raleigh will feed off Union Station, the city’s future transit hub.
Kane acknowledges that Raleigh has reached a turning point as it grows into the 21st-century version of itself.
“Rents are certainly going up,” Kane says. “It costs more money to build product like this.”
But he speaks assuredly when considering where Raleigh is going.
“I think we are growing pretty darn well,” Kane says. “Transit is the key.”
“We now got that coming into place, and I think that will help us manage our growth going forward,” Kane explains. “We are behind the curve on that. We should’ve been doing transit 10 years ago, not today.”
“But we’re not too late.”