Chatham Park: The Art of Dreaming Big
“We’re futurist, We’re imagineers. We’re dreamers. And this was a big dream for us, probably the biggest dream you could possibly have. We want to change people’s lives when they live here.”
-- Tim Smith, Co-Owner, Preston Development
Being the best of the best. That’s the objective Tim Smith and Julian “Bubba” Rawl have set for Chatham Park. The two co-owners of Preston Development say they want to do something that “sets a standard for future developers to come.” Their company’s vision for Chatham Park, a 7,000-acre community between Pittsboro and Jordan Lake, includes 22,000 residences and some 22 million square-feet of commerce space: schools, offices, businesses, research facilities, retail and restaurants.
"We have a great responsibility to do what’s right for this part of the region,” says Rawl, whose company has developed many premiere retail and residential properties in the Triangle and beyond. As it comes together over the next four decades, the vision has the potential to shift the region’s social and economic center of gravity. The property is convenient to Chapel Hill, Durham, Raleigh and Research Triangle Park. “And we’re a 25-minute ride to Raleigh-Durham Airport,” Rawl says.
Plans for Chatham Park include five separate villages and over 25 unique home designs. There will be boutique shops, casual and fine dining, public venues and educational facilities. Ample greenspace and outdoor amenities also will characterize the community -- with 600 acres of parkland, three miles of frontage along the Haw River and a network of more than 50 miles of trails.
About 30 percent of Chatham Park will be open space. The new town will serve as a prototype 21st century community, one where people and families can live, work, learn and recreate.
“We’re futurist,” says Smith. “We’re imagineers. We’re dreamers. And this was a big dream for us, probably the biggest dream you could possibly have.”
Chatham Park will be nothing if not state-of-the-art. Houses will be wired to accommodate electric cars, for example. Streetlights will utilize energy-saving LED technology. “Smart” metering systems will enable residents to monitor their electrical and natural gas consumption in real time. “We want to change people’s lives when they live here,” Smith says. “It’s going to change the way subdivisions and communities are developed in the future,” according to Smith.
While the ambitious vision for Chatham Park will take more than a generation to complete, there is already tangible progress on display. On March 15th, UNC Health Care opened a 25,000-square-foot medical office to patients. Nearing completion is the SECU Jim & Betsy Bryan Hospice Home, also part of UNC Health Care. The $4.7 million facility will serve patients at the end of life, as well as their families. The two-acre facility is the work of James Bryan II, a retired UNC physician and advocate for end-of-life dignity. It will employ skilled nurses, nursing assistants, social workers, pastoral and grief counselors, as well as utilize trained volunteers. It will be the first inpatient hospice facility in Chatham County.
Also now evident at Chatham Park is the start of Thales Academy. The private preK-12 school system was founded in 2007 and is growing its presence in the Triangle. Thales, which has partnered with Preston Development at its other campuses, is part of the initial phase of Chatham Park, with a school serving grades K-5 set to welcome students in 2018. The campus will ultimately include a middle school and a high school. With its strong emphasis on “STEM” curricula (science, technology, engineering and math), Thales will be the ideal fit for the tech-oriented companies Chatham Park hopes to attract.
The mixed-use, multi-generational vision for Chatham Park includes the latest in accessible, sustainable designs. “We hope ours is a model the whole world can look at,” Smith says. “We hope to have people coming from all over the world to study what we’ve done and carry this new technology throughout the world.”
Preston Development is already collaborating with forward-thinking companies around the region to identify technologies to weave into Chatham Park’s homes, buildings and neighborhoods. Company officials are closely involved with the Research Triangle Cleantech Cluster (RTCC), for example, a program that unites pioneering companies in the area in forging joint development opportunities and showcasing the Research Triangle Region’s global leadership in clean technologies, in this case on a community-wide scale.
As an RTCC Project Partner, Chatham Park and its designers have access to a wide array of advanced environmental and utility systems and solutions, as well as the RTCC imprimatur as a replicable prototype for a 21st Century cleantech community. “Since this is on the cutting-edge, there’s not a lot of people who have played on this playground,” Smith says.
Chatham Park’s anticipated economic impact is also going to be a game-changer for Chatham County and beyond. The community could generate $154 billion for North Carolina over the coming four decades, according to an economic impact study by North Carolina State University. The project’s impact for the Triangle region could total $140 billion, the study found, with Chatham County alone reaping 61,000 new jobs. Statewide job creation radiating from the project could reach 115,000.
“Chatham Park turned out to have a larger economic impact than I expected,” says Dr. Michael Walden, professor of economics at NC State. “A hundred thousand new jobs to the area is simply mindboggling – and those are permanent jobs.” The Chatham County Economic Development Commission sponsored Walden’s analysis of the project’s economic potential. “The impact is truly impressive,” Walden says.