MEBANE, N.C. (WGHP) — An interstate pop culture phenomenon.
I like that description. I can’t take credit for it. I came across it in one of the seemingly countless articles I read in preparation for this story.
But I think it describes perfectly what appears to be on its way to Mebane, a fast-growing city of nearly 20,000 people off Interstates 40/85 in Alamance County.
There’s a good chance you know the city for the large Tanger Outlet Center just off the Mebane Oaks Road Exit. When that place opened in the fall of 2010, traffic on the interstate was backed up for miles. The parking lot always appears to be full every time I drive by 13 years later.
“Their lawyer contacted our city management and talked to them about the possibility of Buc-ee’s coming to Mebane,” Mayor Ed Hooks told me during my recent visit to the city’s Glendel Stephenson Municipal Building.
It’s a building named after the city’s legendary former mayor who—many years ago as a bank executive—gave Stanley Tanger his first loan to establish the Burlington Outlet Mall. It’s amazing how things tend to come full-circle, isn’t it?
But back to Buc-ee’s:
“They (the city management) gave them the information they needed to bring it forward,” the mayor said. “It’s (the discussions) been going on now for about six months.”
At this writing, Buc-ee’s has filed a preliminary plan with the City of Mebane to re-zone about 90 acres a couple of exits to the west of Tanger Outlets (the Trollingwood-Hawfields Road Exit) so it can build a 75,000 square foot travel plaza.
Since this proposal is going through the city’s formal review process, Mayor Hooks can’t comment on what this could mean for the city— good or bad.
But it’s got a lot of people talking.
For those of you who’ve never “experienced” a Buc-ee’s, I’ll give you a brief description based on my visits to a Buc-ee’s just outside of Dallas, Texas (the state in which the company’s based) and a store the company opened last year off Interstate 95 in Florence, South Carolina.
It’s the largest gas/station convenience store I’ve ever visited.
We’re talking more than 100 gas pumps, the largest men’s restroom I’ve ever used, the biggest selection of snacks and roadside souvenirs I’ve ever seen, a buck-toothed beaver mascot you see everywhere and—in a nod to the company’s roots—the “Texas Round Up Food Station” featuring brisket, sausage, turkey and pulled pork.
And those are just a few of the memorable highlights.
A store of similar size opened earlier this year off Interstate 40 in Sevierville, Tennessee (a city, interestingly enough, that also has a Tanger Outlet Center.) Buc-ee’s claims that travel plaza is its largest and employs 350 people.
Needless to say, I think a Buc-ee’s opening its first North Carolina store in Mebane could—and I stress the word “could”—be about as big for the city as Tanger’s opening more than a decade ago.
But you get the feeling Mayor Hooks doesn’t want everyone to forget there is and will be a lot more to Mebane than what you see out on the interstate—both now and in the future.
“Anything that we can do as a council to encourage people to come downtown is a plus,” Hooks told me as we walked the sidewalks and listened to a Norfolk-Southern freight train as it barreled through the center of town.
The mayor considers downtown to be the center of Mebane’s economic development.
“We decided to refurbish city hall into what it is now,” he told me. “We bought the old post office and made the police department out of it. We bought an old textile mill and made the library out of it.”
Recently, Mebane became a North Carolina Main Street Community in recognition of its efforts to revitalize and preserve downtown.
Soon, a developer will demolish the old Kingsdown Mattress headquarters and factory to build “The District on Washington.” This will bring 217 luxury apartments and multiple retail establishments to downtown.
But don’t forget other signs of Mebane’s impressive economic health.
It’s growing so quickly, it’s having to building two new fire stations. Major employers have recently built or are currently building big facilities generating hundreds of new jobs in the city’s three industrial parks. Amazon, Wal-Mart, Sheets, and UPS are among them.
Even so, the mayor feels it’s important to maintain the small town qualities that make Mebane—as reflected in its branding and the description you see on signs all over the city— “positively charming.”
“Controlled growth, managed growth, there are a lot of definitions for it,” the mayor said. “I think we’re going to be the beneficiary of a lot of great things.”
Mayor Hooks believes the Buc-ee’s proposal could go before the city council by the beginning of 2024. If everything gets approved (and the North Carolina Department of Transportation is able to widen the roadway near the site to handle the extra traffic) Buc-ee’s could open by 2025.
And maybe then Mebane could add “pop culture phenomenon” to its impressive list of destinations.