Wake Forest leaders aim to improve quality of life through strategic planning – here’s how by Latisha Catchatoorian
here’s no perfect formula for creating a thriving municipality, but there are some key ingredients. Strategic economic development,
a vibrant downtown culture, available jobs and an aﬀordable cost of living are just a few essential elements, and the Town of Wake Forest has these checklist items in spades. “The Town of Wake Forest is home to families, young professionals, entrepreneurs and creatives,” said Jason Cannon, president of the Wake Forest Business & Industry Partnership. “Its widespread appeal is due to things like reasonable housing prices, the charming nature of the town, the area’s strategic economic development, and plenty of activities for people of all ages and interests. The quality of life here is what attracts residents and keeps them here for years to come.”
Town of Wake Forest Downtown Development Director Lisa Hayes is a “true believer” that a downtown is the core of a community. “The health of your downtown directly aﬀects the health of your community,” she continued. “If you’ve got a vibrant downtown, that sets the tone and entire stage for the community versus having shuttered windows. We are the front porch of our community. We are the gathering spot.” And that it is. Downtown Wake Forest hosts several events throughout the year and there is always something going on. The town’s calendar of events, restaurants, shopping, businesses and friendly faces prove that
One thing that the town does particularly well is creating a
“The town’s resources are what draw people in and its qualityof-life is what makes people stay.”
the town’s historic and central business districts.
community that can achieve a high quality of life through the amenities, infrastructure, events and opportunities that it aﬀords its citizens. After all, not much can happen in a city that doesn’t have a strong framework of where it’s been and where it wants to go.
downtown is certainly the place to be. “Quality of life is so important to citizens,” Hayes opined. That’s exactly what Wake Forest transplant and resident Dawn Nakash found when she moved to town. “We were looking for a better quality of life in preretirement — still working, but as empty nesters. We loved other towns on paper, but not when we toured
For example, The Town of Wake Forest Renaissance
them,” Nakash recalled. “In 2011, Wake Forest was just
Plan has been instrumental in the transformation of
entering its downtown revitalization and streetscape
downtown since its 2006 inception. Developed to
projects — it didn’t look like it does today, but we saw
create a vision for the “heart of the community,” its
the forest for the trees. Downtown Wake Forest is what
planning encompasses 220 acres and includes both
drew me to this area and it has delivered all that I had
hoped.” Nakash’s lunchtime run-ins are characteristic of the
It’s details like these that let visitors and residents alike know the town is well cared for.
kind of place Wake Forest is. It’s a place that is tight-
Additionally, new developments like Joyner Park
knit enough where shop owners know their customers
Community Center and the Factory give residents that
personally, but hip enough where something is
“it” factor when it comes to the quality of life in town.
happening almost every weekend. It’s a place where you can borrow a cup of sugar, but also a city where you can build a thriving business. It’s a town with a “quality of life metric” that isn’t designated on a map, but something you can certainly ﬁnd in Wake Forest.
Joyner Park is a 32,000-square-foot facility that will feature a walking track, basketball gym, volleyball and pickleball, multi-purpose rooms, a dance studio, and kitchen. The Factory is an “eat, shop, play” destination that features shops, restaurants and an indoor
Bob Johnson is a well-known property and business
sportsplex, including ice hockey rinks, basketball
owner in downtown Wake Forest. He has been a
facilities, gymnastics facilities and more.
pivotal part of the town’s renaissance and was an early undertaker of projects that amped up downtown revitalization eﬀorts.
A proponent of strategic growth, Johnson’s impact extends beyond business and property management as he is an active member of the community. He’s been
“I had heard for many years that Wake Forest had
instrumental in helping Wake Forest establish itself as
taken oﬀ, but when I ﬁrst arrived here over 20 years
a tech incubator and is the co-owner the Hatch
ago, the ﬁrst block of downtown was for sale. We
Coworking space downtown.
ended up buying it,” he said. “Later we purchased a warehouse that was being used as a storage building in historic downtown — it became the Cotton Company.” The Cotton Company occupies the old cotton warehouse on S. White Street. It ﬁrst opened its marketplace of upscale home decor and gifts after the initial renovations. Later, Over the Falls Deli was added. Then, the upper ﬂoor was turned into an artist’s gallery and studio that was eventually converted into a space for events called the Event Gallery. It’s an elegant
Aside from his professional ties to Wake Forest, he’s genuinely invested in the town he describes as “familyfriendly,” which is evidenced in his devotion to its growth and success. “We build upon the positives and enhance them and try to keep people here — we want them to still be able to enjoy their community,” Johnson said of intentional and well-planned development. “A ‘worklive-play’ community is encased here within Wake Forest.”
location to host corporate meetings, weddings,
Beyond the downtown, thriving businesses,
anniversaries, and other celebrations.
technological giants like the Wireless Research Center
Johnson said he and his wife started buying buildings with the intention of making the surrounding areas safe and walkable. Noting the array of greenways and
and a homegrown neighborhood feel only add to the enriching experience that Wake Forest provides for its residents.
outdoor spaces that Wake Forest has to oﬀer, he
“It’s important to remember that you’re not doing
wanted to encourage physical activity in social
anything great on your own — quality of life is
gathering spots like the downtown area too. So, he got
achieved by working together,” Johnson said. “You have
to work repairing and staining sidewalks.
to be part of the community.”
“You have to use stain, not paint, because paint, when it gets wet, is slippery,” he explained of the Paint the Town Program he spearheaded. “We had literally over 400 volunteers coming in on a Saturday and we just stenciled and started making the sidewalks look like old bricks.”
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