SoCo project barrels toward completion

Posted 3/24/21

PITTSBORO — Pittsboro is undergoing dramatic change, especially north of U.S. Hwy. 64 where the Chatham Park behemoth is developing at full bore.

But some residents, such as “SoCo” developer …

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SoCo project barrels toward completion

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Posted

PITTSBORO — Pittsboro is undergoing dramatic change, especially north of U.S. Hwy. 64 where the Chatham Park behemoth is developing at full bore.

But some residents, such as “SoCo” developer Greg Stafford, fear the new northern communities — replete with extensive shopping centers, entertainment venues and dining options — will antiquate Pittsboro’s historic downtown and rob longtime businesses of their clientele.

“They’re not the enemy,” Stafford said of Chatham Park. “The rooftops they bring and the people they bring, we want to have as customers downtown. But if we don’t step up, or we don’t match what they do, then I think we’ll suffer.”

Stafford owns several properties downtown on West Street and Sanford Road where he is developing the SoCo project — which stands for South of the Courthouse — a collection of dining and retail locations. He talks like an established downtown business owner, passionate about the district’s health and survival, but until recently, Stafford worked as a lawyer before tiring of the profession and turning his attention to real estate.

“I didn’t like being a lawyer, honestly,” he said. “I didn’t like arguing.”

But he did like helping people as “a reasonably priced alternative legal representation.” That same motivation to help Pittsboro residents and keep the town relevant fueled his SoCo vision, a revitalization effort to keep pace with Chatham Park and Mosaic.

Now, with about $7 million invested and countless hours spent working with contractors, petitioning the board of commissioners and fielding resident concerns, Stafford jokes that “if we had known what was involved in doing this project when we started the project, it would have never happened.”

“And it’s not really going to recover the money anytime in my lifetime,” he said. “But that’s fine because we are excited about what this means for Pittsboro.”

Stafford grew up in Cary and watched the town’s evolution as the Preston community introduced new residents and business infrastructure to support them. It has taken 30 years, he says, for Cary’s downtown to establish some relevance again. He would be devastated if the same happened in Pittsboro.

“I really do not want to see that happen in Pittsboro,” Stafford said, “and I do not believe it will.”

At least, not if he has anything to say about it.

After finalizing his permits and permissions with the town, Stafford broke ground on SoCo at the beginning of this year. So far, most of the work has been laying infrastructure. He’s racing to finish construction and welcome new tenants as pandemic restrictions begin to lift and people return to public spaces. Current businesses include The Modern Life Deli & Drinks (The Mod), Chatham Business Services and Chateaux Realty, all on Sanford Road.

He’s also working against the clock to keep pace with NCDOT’s construction projection at the traffic circle downtown.

“We have to have our work done before they get theirs done,” he said. “If we don’t get done with all of our utilities and stuff out to the street, then the DOT builds a new sidewalk, new paving, new everything, and then four weeks later we end up digging that up. And that’s not a good look.”

NCDOT is projected to compete its work in October. Stafford estimates SoCo will be ready for tenants not long after.

“We’re a little bit behind our completion projections,” he said. “We thought it was going to be in November. Now it looks like it’ll be January.”

But Stafford isn’t worried by the minor delay. His primary concern through the project’s early stages was whether businesses would pursue the space.

“When we started in August, I was very, very worried that we were going to put ourselves out there on this project, and then we were going to be unable to rent the place out for a while,” he said.

A little more than half a year later, though, and his concerns have abated.

“It’s been very much a pleasant surprise,” he said, “the number of outfits that want to go in.”

Stafford expects to announce in about two months what businesses will occupy the SoCo complex. Until then, he can’t divulge all the details, but offered that one new tenant — almost certainly — will be a brewery.

“Almost universally, what wants to go in there is breweries,” he said. “... Currently, there’s really six breweries who want to be in there, but there are three of them who are serious contenders.”

Even before the pandemic, microbreweries were in hot demand. In the last year, though — during which pandemic restrictions closed traditional bars — the concept has especially thrived, and microbrewery owners are poised for expansion.

“The way the governor shut down restaurants and bars but didn’t shut down breweries,” Stafford said, “the breweries are flush with cash and everyone else isn’t. So now we’re looking at a situation where breweries are the guys going, ‘Oh yeah, I got the money for that.’”

Whatever the final roster of businesses, Stafford’s primary concern is that they complement downtown’s current offerings and entice Pittsboro residents. As Chatham Park continues its development and new residents move into the town’s northern communities, Stafford hopes SoCo and similar downtown revitalization projects will ensure that all of Pittsboro moves forward together.

“I just hope that the rest of downtown can benefit from this,” he said. “... We’ve got to push it to get done as much as possible so that we can survive the next 20 years with a vibrant downtown and not everything fall apart. That’s really the goal.”

Reporter D. Lars Dolder can be reached at dldolder@chathamnr.com and on Twitter @dldolder.

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