Fenton, Cary: Why it’s a place worth embracing (despite the loss of trees)

When I first saw them breaking ground on the new Fenton development in late 2020, I without a doubt cussed. If you’ve been following us for some time you know how much we love the “living in a forest feel” of the Raleigh area and Wake County.

aerial view of fenton development cary
The Fenton Cary development on opening day, June 3rd, 2022

I felt that burn every time I drove past the Fenton Development in Cary and watched it go from a beautiful forest, to cleared red dirt, to mixed use buildings slowly rising up.

This is the challenge we face in The Triangle area – finding space for the explosive growth we’re experiencing so we can embrace new and exciting ways of living, while balancing that with not destroying the “living in a Forest’ feel most of us love so much. 

I hate brushing things off by saying, “it’s complicated,” but it really is.

May we have leaders who can innovate, conserve, and flourish at the same time. And may we vote for those that do!

Adding to the Vibrant Lifestyle of Wake County

A group of people standing in front of a building fenton cary
Fenton is vibrant and colorful

As much as we love our forest feel, we also love the vibrant lifestyle of Wake County (and beyond). A lot of that comes from the many incredible things we can do, and the restaurants, the bars, the cafes and festivals.

Fenton is adding to that vibrant lifestyle mix in a truly modern way that replaces the boring indoor mall of old, to create a more fluid and energetic gathering space.

A view of a fenton cary
Fenton, Cary, NC
We like the inclusion of flowers and trees throughout

We visited last Thursday for the extravagant ribbon cutting ceremony and a preview party the following evening. 

I may have walked in with a slight drag of feet, but I came out skipping (okay, I may have had a few cocktails!)

I felt the Fenton fun and saw how our family could create many memories here – especially our girls as they move through the teenage years.

A building that has a sign honeysuckle in cary fenton
Honeysuckle Gelato is open
A sign on the side of the street fenton cary
Street scene at Fenton

Since it’s close to the old Cary Town Plaza, it feels weird and wasteful that they knocked one down and recreated another. (Cary Town Plaza closed in January 2021 after being purchased by Epic Games to be used as their new global headquarters and is currently being demolished).

But, as much as we all have memories of that old-style, indoor mall that turned into a ghost town, this is definitely a hipper and more modern version for the generations below us to create their own memories. 

A person standing in front of a sign where cary comes alive in fenton
Welcome to Fenton Cary
live the life mural fenton cary
Time to create new memories

So many Cary residents felt sadness when it was ripped down – it’s because of the memories they have tied to it. Just think Fenton will be the new place for people to create those kinds of memories. And I think it will be done in a better way. 

Cary needed something like this – while downtown Cary is innovating and outgrowing its once-ghost-town state, it’s still quite small with not much to do for the youth. 

This will help disperse the 185,000 people spread out over the large Cary area with more spaces to play. 

A aerial view of a fenton cary with forest in the background
My drone shot of Fenton
A person standing in front of a building
Exploring the streets of Fenton

I am excited about this space in Cary. It’s important we don’t let the tree’s banishment be for nothing, embrace what it has to offer and use it as a way to continue living with vibrancy and connection at the center of all we do! 

Okay, enough of my ramblings, let’s check out the coolness of Fenton Cary!

(As we are not a traditional newspaper or magazine, we tend to share our rambling thoughts more than just regurgitated press releases or formal reports #KeepingItReal. We welcome your thoughts in the comments down below – but please make it respectful and kind!)

 What is Fenton?

Fenton, Cary, NC

Fenton is a mixed-use development located on ninety-two acres in the northwest quadrant of the I-40/Cary Towne Boulevard interchange.

Fenton in Cary feels more like a created village instead of a shopping mall. It will eventually include a main street, a village square, residential apartments, office space, shopping, salons, fitness services, dining, a movie theater, supermarket, hotels and more.

A view of fenton cary

There are open spaces for community events such as concerts and ice-skating rinks during the holidays. 

Some of those events have already kicked off with its weekend grand openings, which include communal fitness and yoga classes, and a live summer concert series. Check the schedule to see what is happening

Fenton, Cary, NC
Events space
Fenton, Cary, NC
Corn hole game area
A bench in front of a building with fenton cary sign
Water fountain feature

This $850 million multi-use development project was created in partnership with Hines, a real estate investing company and South Carolina’s Columbia Development. They say this project is one of the biggest in the country.

As the population is expected to double in Cary in the next 20-30 years, Fenton will become a destination hub for residents to “work, live, play” as was the tagline of the different speakers at the ribbon cutting from the mayor to the developers.

What I love about Fenton?

woman posing at angel wings mural fenton cary
Time to spread those wings!

It’s interesting to note that the Fenton development team spent considerable time visiting other successful and similar mixed retail spaces around the country, including Austin, Texas and Avalon in Atlanta, which is what Fenton is mostly modeled on (you’ll find a few Atlanta brand names in Fenton.)

The research team investigated what worked and didn’t, which is why Fenton feels a little familiar to North Hills or Southpoint, but with its own unique personality.

There’s a lot to love about it. 

The interactive art 

fenton cary murals
Fly away in Fenton

Th entire design of Fenton is bold and colorful. It feels like every wall in Fenton is plastered with interactive colorful murals. It’s truly a development of our modern era of making everything Instagrammable. 

Art helps to tell a story and bring vibrancy to a community. Interactive art helps you create fun memories with those you love. 

Craig and I had fun striking poses in front of the many murals. While we do this for business, I encourage all of you to do it for fun. 

butterfly wing mural on the side of a building fenton cary
Love butterflies!

Dress up in bright colorful clothing, twirl a little, fly off with some balloons and flap your butterfly and angel wings. Let the art help you create your own fun. I can’t wait to see what else arrives on the walls as it continues to grow.

A close up of fenton sign

If you have been to Nashville, you may recognize the angel wings of Kelsey Montague and the “What Lifts You” Fame. She helped start a massive angel wing mural craze across the globe after her wings were featured by Taylor Swift.

I was excited to see she has painted a beautiful version of the wings on a wall in Fenton. I loved how there are birds flying out of the wings.

angel wing mural on blue wall with lady posing fenton cary
Wings by Kelsey Montague at Fenton

Kelsey works closely with local communities to create something unique to the history and personality of the community, and hides things in the wings. I’m pretty sure there is a cardinal in the wings in Fenton, but I’m not 100%. 

Throughout Fenton in Cary there are murals and mosaic tiles with positive reminders like, “Good Days Start Here”, “Smile,” and “Kindness is contagious.”

I’d love to see future walls showcase local artists!

The communal spaces + events

a woman sitting on colorful couches posing fenton Cary

I love outdoor spaces designed with community gathering in mind. 

Fenton reminds me of North Hills and I envision a future of fun days and nights gathering with friends and neighbors enjoying markets, concerts, and celebratory events. 

Different seating areas have been created around the center square and fountain giving a homely feel. 

They feature comfortable sofas with bright, colorful cushions, umbrellas, beach chairs, fire pits and gigantic games of Jenga and corn hole. (I’m hoping these just weren’t here for the opening events and will be a regular thing! 

Fenton, Cary, NC

There were several pop up bars around the space as well which I know were for the event, but a promising sign of how this space can be used in the future. 

It’s great to see that while so many of the stores are not yet open, they are going full steam ahead with community events. 

Some include:

  • Thriving Thursday series with free workout classes hosted by Club Pilates and Lululemon (fantastic way to serve community)
  • The Tuesday evening live music series 
  • Most importantly the inclusive nature of their events, with a Pride celebration on this June 10th and a Juneteenth pop up market

Can you see how Fenton can be a place that cares about and connects the community? Let’s celebrate and support that. 

Outdoor shopping

Fenton, Cary, NC

I personally don’t like indoor malls – except I guess on a rainy day. I find them too stiff, artificial, and corporate, and those food courts are more than welcome to move to the permanent past. 

I love how Fenton has turned the mall inside out. It’s like the days of old when you can pop in and out of stores, interacting with blue skies and sunshine, and life moving about you in the streets. It feels more neighborly.

Fenton, Cary, NC

It’s from my experience traveling the globe for 24 years that villages set up like this, tend to have a more upbeat, happier vibe. 

Fenton is focused on livability and walkability. 

We chatted about the importance of this on our podcast with Marcus Ginyard in reference to how much he missed that village feeling from his time living in Europe.

You feel more a part of the community simply by getting out of your car bubbles (or indoor mall bubble) and walking around connecting with people in outdoor spaces. 

I also wrote a 5,000-word post on getting around London for the same reason. How can you find so much joy in getting around London? Catching the London tube or walking 20,000 steps per day helped us connect to the pulse of London life and engage with the locals.

Fenton, Cary, NC

Fenton will have a similar high vibe because of this focus on being outdoors and gathering as a community – for those visiting or those living in Fenton.

The parking decks are a street back from the main street, and traffic is only one lane in each direction through the middle of the development, which hopefully should keep car traffic at a minimum. 

Why not make it pedestrian only? It’s only a small area and so no real reason to drive through it. 

However, I do think that one lane road through the middle of the development should be left to accommodate for those who may find it challenging to walk in from the parking deck.

This will save blocking the road for them.

What I’d love to see more of

Fenton, Cary, NC

As mentioned, my biggest dislike is the loss of trees. But there ain’t nothing we can do about that now. 

They have planted some trees in the streets of the development – the more the merrier. They are only new and small so need time for growing. When they do it will be a wonderful shady addition to the complex. 

I would love the development team to incorporate even more green spaces and gardens and sustainable features. It’s a great way to give back to the community and show innovative ways you can develop while respecting nature. It’s the only way forward.

The only other thing I didn’t like was the lack of local retail stores and restaurants.

I’m super happy we have local additions like Dram and Draught, Scott Crawford steakhouse, and M Sushi – a local Durham restaurant.

Fenton, Cary, NC
Excited that Dram & Draught will open in this space soon-see you there Kevin!

The only two local(ish) retail stores are Bailey’s Fine Jewelry, which was founded in Rocky Mount, and The Gatorbug boutique store, which first opened in Atlantic Beach.

PLEASE, pretty PLEASE Fenton, can you get a great local coffee shop like one of our favorite coffee shops in downton Raleigh! No Starbucks. Putting in a local café with trained baristas on the art of coffee making will elevate Fenton. I will be a more than frequent visitor if you do.!

What’s open now?

A street scene with focus on the side of a building lululemon fenton cary
Lulumon is open

Fenton truly has only just begun, y’all. There are sections still under construction and will be completed in phases over the coming year{s). 

Its main plaza is now open to the public as well as a few big-name retail stores including Sephora, Southern Tide, Williams Sonoma, Altar’d State, Lululemon, Alura and Nike.

With the current complications of supply chain issues and getting permits etc., the other retailers and restaurants will be opening at various times, so keep checking back in with Fenton to see when those openings are. 

A williams sonoma store front fenton cary

A mural on front of nike building fenton cary
Nike is open
sephora building fenton cary
Sephora is open
A blackboard sign outside of a building
Lot’s more coming soon to Fenton!

Apartments are expected to be ready in July and are already 90% leased. We could see the community pool situated above the retail space overlooking the green square. It looks like a fun space. 

Fenton, Cary, NC
The apartments look great

There are no restaurants or bars open yet – but there is ice cream!! 

honeysuckle ice cream fenton
Yum! mint choc chip

Honeysuckle is waiting for you with a wide variety of gelato flavors, sorbet, and milkshakes. They also have a cute outdoor sitting area. I enjoyed my chocolate mint ice-cream. 

At the preview party, did get to experience some delicious bruschetta from Colleta, the upcoming Italian restaurant opening soon, and the magical cocktail creations from Dram and Draught, including the Fraise 75, which blows smoke in your face with your first sip. (See our Instagram video for more).

Fenton, Cary, NC
Colleta is opening soon!

We were more than happy to sit at the pop-up whiskey bar at the preview party with Kevin Garrett, founder of Dram and Draught to learn how to drink whiskey. (see Tik Tok).

As Dram and Draught is one of our favorite bars in Raleigh, we’re looking forward to its opening. 

I’m very interested to see how Fenton grows. I feel positive and excited about it. Growth is inevitable and with that comes growth challenges.

Let’s make the most of Fenton so the green sacrifice was worth the benefit it brings to the community. 

I really hope it grows into the space I envision in my mind – because it’s a cool, fun place to be and it’s filled with laughter and happy memories. 

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