Results of a study that explored redevelopment options for the former county jail property located immediately behind the Wilkes Heritage Museum in Wilkesboro will be presented to members of the Wilkesboro town council Monday night (tonight).
The property is owned by Wilkes County government, but County Attorney Tony Triplett said he’s readying the site to be deeded to the town at no charge, pending action by the county commissioners.
In anticipation of the conveyance, graduate students from the University of North Carolina’s School of Government recently concluded parcel and market analyses to explore site development options based on the property itself and community needs.
In their report, the UNC graduate students recommended a new mixed-use building be constructed on the former jail site with professional office space on the first floor and multi-family housing units on the second and third floor.
The students also recommended the office space be built so it could be converted to retail space in the future, if a demand arises.
No action is expected from the council Monday following the presentation of the study, which was free to the town. Planning and Community Development Director Andrew Carlton said the study was conducted to identify a feasible project that a developer would be interested in.
“This is more or less an endeavor by the town to paint a picture of what’s possible for this property,” Carlton said.
When the property is ready to be deeded to Wilkesboro, the action will need to be approved by the town council and Wilkes County Commissioners.
Triplett said the process has been delayed because a survey on the property found a discrepancy in the boundary line between the jail property and adjacent property of Tim Welborn. Triplett said the approximately six-foot overlap will likely be divided in half, with three feet going to each property. But this will need to be agreed upon by both parties before the property can be deeded to Wilkesboro.
“It’s just a matter of actually getting it done,” Triplett said.
In their market analysis, the students considered factors like commuter patterns, job and housing growth projections, occupancy, leasing and vacancy percentages and local supply and demand estimates.
The report noted that there is a “significant multi-family housing demand,” in the area, with potential renters including those currently commuting to work in Wilkesboro from elsewhere, Wilkes Community College students and elderly renters.
According to U.S. Census data, only 4 percent of Wilkesboro’s 10,500 workers live within town limits. Though Wilkesboro’s population is just 3,500, major employers including Tyson Foods Inc., Lowe’s Companies Inc., Wilkes County and Wilkes Community College increase the weekday population to three times that amount.
The students noted in their report that additional downtown rental options could attract those current commuters to live in Wilkesboro.
Elderly residents were also identified as important potential renters. 25 percent of homeowners living within a 25-mile radius of the site are age 65 and older, the report stated.
“Elderly residents looking to transition from their traditional single family home to a smaller space represents a potential source of new renters in downtown,” the report said.
Northwest Housing Authority Executive Director Ned Fowler, who was in charge of the Historic Wilkesboro School redevelopment project, supported this conclusion. Fowler noted that the 41 units within the affordable housing building for seniors and disabled people are never vacant, and the demand for additional space is constant, the report states.
The students also found a need for high-quality office space in the downtown area.
Based on data from CoStar, a commercial real estate information company, 78 percent of Wilkes County’s office space is located in Wilkesboro. While there has been a downward trend of employment in Wilkes County in recent years, there is a countywide job growth projection of six percent over the next 10 years—120 of which are projected to be added in the office-occupying sector, the report said.
High-quality office space could also attract tenants otherwise not interested in being located in downtown Wilkesboro, the report said.
The students identified less need for retail space. Wilkesboro, North Wilkesboro and other surrounding areas already have low average rent for retail space (half of the state average) and the vacancy rate for downtown retail space in Wilkesboro is 20 percent.
However, the report also states that future residents of the development would generate additional retail demand, so any mixed-use plans should include office space that could be converted to retail space.