WENDELL — A developer will likely open the door to rapid growth in Wendell by the end of the year, according to a spokesman familiar with the dealings of Wendell Falls, the multimillion dollar mixed-use project that imploded during the recession.
“I’d put my own money on it,” Joe Lassiter, of The Pinellas Group and Redus, told Wendell’s Economic Development Committee on May 22. The 1,300-acre property off U.S. 264/64 “won’t stay the way it is now for very much longer,” he said.
The original developers of Wendell Falls planned for 4,000 homes, prompting Wendell to buy additional water capacity from the city of Raleigh. Investors borrowed $69 million for the project and had spent more than $100 million on it by the time financial markets froze in 2008, when work was halted. Wells Fargo then began foreclosing on portions of the property, and in 2010 bought 16 parcels of the project at auction for $25.6 million, according to Wake County property records.
The property has been on and off the market twice before it emerged back on the market in March, said Teresa Piner, Wendell’s town manager. And because few new large developments are coming online in Wake County, Piner says interest in Wendell Falls has increased. “There’s a lot of activity behind the scenes,” Piner said.
That’s why the committee – comprised of some of Wendell’s most successful businessmen such as Universal Chevrolet president Paul White, Mortex owner Ed Morrell, and Barry Perry of Perry’s gun shop – invited Lassiter, whose presence lured Mayor Tim Hinnant, Commissioner Ginna Gray, Interim Fire Chief Brian Staples, and former mayor Lucius Jones to the meeting.
But Lassiter didn’t provide details of Wells Fargo’s negotiations with potential buyers, such as how many developers are interested, what the land might be used for, and how much the bank is asking for the property. Lassiter said his instructions were to “give a muted but positive” presentation about ongoing negotiations and he did not take questions after his comments to the committee.
During the meeting, Morrell asked Lassiter about the types of developers interested in the property. Lassiter described interested parties as “looking to produce a quality product, rather than a quantity product,” and said the bank hoped to sell Wendell Falls to single “master developer” equipped with the wherewithal to buy the property as one entity without taking on debt.
Lassiter speculated that, if current negotiations succeed, the deal may spur more growth than the subdivision would have in 2011.
“If it had been sold two years ago, you wouldn’t have come out with the product you would now,” Lassiter said.
The existing infrastructure, such as water and sewer lines, are part of the property’s appeal, Lassiter said. However, without use, the infrastructure may soon start to deteriorate, he said.
“The bank realizes it’s time to move forward,” Lassiter said.
After the meeting, Gray said she’d like to believe Lassiter’s prediction.
“He didn’t say anything I wasn’t already aware of. But there are encouraging aspects of (his presentation) like how the property is being marketed,” Gray said. “I hope it happens as fast as he speculated it could.”