If you think “development” and “Pittsboro,” you might envision Chatham Park or Mosaic, taking shape north of town. But Greg Stafford envisions something special in downtown Pittsboro with his …
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If you think “development” and “Pittsboro,” you might envision Chatham Park or Mosaic, taking shape north of town. But Greg Stafford envisions something special in downtown Pittsboro with his “SoCo” — for South of the Courthouse — project.
This week, we spoke with Stafford about his plan to transform properties he owns on West Street and Sanford Road into a retail and dining hub for downtown. Stafford grew up in Chapel Hill and graduated from UNC before going to law school at N.C. Central. He moved to Chatham County in 1995 and worked as an attorney for 20 years before, he says, “starting to rehab old houses and renting them out.”
He’s working with Eric Andrews at Realty World and local architect Taylor Hobbs on the SoCo project — and looking, in the meantime, for potential tenants.
And when not at work, Stafford enjoys fishing and mowing grass. “It sounds like a joke,” he said, “but it’s not. I mow a number of lawns but do not charge because it would be more paperwork than I am interested in.”
He and his wife Paula have two adult children.
Let’s start with a bit of history on the property in downtown Pittsboro you’re developing. How long have you owned the property at West Street and what’s the makeup of the property today?
We bought the first buildings in November 2014 and most recently finished buying pieces in September 2018. All were bought from members of the Justice and Hamlet families. What we own encompasses the corner from 39 West Street to 56 Sanford Road.
Can you talk about your vision for SoCo and your inspiration for it?
Vision-wise, it’s to keep as much of the old as possible and add modern sewer, electric, etc., so that downtown Pittsboro can be on equal footing with Chatham Park. The name itself was coined by Tommy Edwards, who is a famous Pittsboro northerner.
When it’s fully completed, how will that stretch of property change? And what types of tenants are you envisioning?
The goal is a large amount of outdoor seating on the corner and opening up the buildings themselves to a quasi-outdoor experience.
Dylan Perry, who owns The Mod, has done an outstanding job with that and The Other Side bar. Both are unique in the area. Dylan was a first-time restaurant owner and has simply exceeded all expectations that such a status would bring.
In the current location of the Republican Party headquarters there will be a two-story restaurant and bar with outdoor seating on the roof and front patio. Depending on the tenant the old Pittsboro Roadhouse location will be either one or two spots. It is an extremely large space; time will tell how it goes. If I had my dream there would be a brewery in the old Roadhouse spot and in the two-story building fine dining of some kind. Pittsboro has missed the Oak Leaf restaurant and if we could come close to their quality in that location, we would be extremely happy. Chatham Business Services and Chateaux Realty currently occupy the center building on Sanford Road and we anticipate they will remain. Both have flourishing businesses and draw well to the block.
Once completed, what will SoCo mean to shoppers and visitors — and other business owners — downtown? How will it help transform downtown?
Hopefully it becomes a draw for new Pittsboro. It is strange to me when I go to Al’s, Virlies or The Mod, I see people I have known from Pittsboro and know most of the faces. When I go to Chatham Park to eat, I do not see anyone I know. It is like two totally different worlds. I want to draw the Chatham Park crowd to Pittsboro. That will be good for all of us.
Why is a development like this critical to the sustainability and success of a walkable downtown area like Pittsboro? And can you compare what you’re doing to a similar development nearby?
I really do not know how to answer this. I am not a developer in the sense that I have never done this before nor have I ever paid much attention to projects like this before.
I grew up as Preston came to Cary and watched downtown Cary die. It took 30 years for downtown Cary to become a good place to visit. I really do not want to see that happen in Pittsboro and I do not believe it will. I want to make it clear that I do not blame Preston for Cary’s woes back in the 80s. There was simply a development explosion that was not answered by the existing downtown.
We have a very cool mix in Pittsboro and from the City Tap to John’s Pizza we have quality restaurants and bars. From Beggars and Choosers to Tommy Edwards’ place we have bookends of wonderful eclectic shopping. We have loads of parking and should be well positioned to enjoy the inflow of folks coming into Pittsboro for the way of life it offers.
You’re planning to break ground by the start of 2021. What else do people need to know about the timeline for this project?
We will break ground as soon as we have an anchor tenant in place. If we have a lease in place either for the old Pittsboro Roadhouse location or for the Republican Party building, we will start in January. Otherwise it will wait until we have one.
Has the COVID-19 pandemic made any impact on your work on this project, or the timeline?
COVID has not made an impact on the work or timeline, but it does keep me up at night. For my family this is a huge investment. In five years, I have the potential to look extremely dim-witted if we are still in fear mode as a community. I am betting that this is temporary and the huge amounts of outdoor seating will be a draw.
Downtown business owners have told us on, and off, the record about how the demonstrators, many of whom are not from Chatham, have hurt business there. Is this a concern?
I believe it is very clear that the protests hurt business in a big way. Downtown has been hit with the protests, then COVID-19, and then there will be the massive circle revamping by DOT — so it will continue to be difficult for downtown for awhile.