Nearly two decades ago, Kane Realty Corporation purchased the old North Hills mall. Since that time, they’ve created a bustling, mixed-use development. To give you a look inside the creation of North Hills, we sat down with John Kane, CEO, and Mike Smith, President & COO.

In this three-part series, we’ll share their story of the past, present, and future of North Hills. Today, we’re taking a look back to learn how North Hills became the vibrant community it is today.

North Hills Live: Tell us about North Hills before it was purchased in 1999.

Kane & Smith: In the 1960s, North Hills was the site of the first indoor mall between Atlanta, GA, and Washington, DC. Because it was the first mall in the area, people drove 50-100 miles to come to the North Hills Mall. As the decades went on and competitors entered the market, the mall began to decline.

North Hills Live: What factors led you to purchase the property? Why there, and why then?

Kane & Smith: The location of North Hills abuts some of the highest residential property values in Raleigh, and the high income and education levels in the area were very compelling. Yet in the 1990s, the North Hills Mall was in desperate need of reinvestment and improvements. Additionally, Raleigh was ripe for a more urban setting: a walkable gathering place, embraced by dense and complementary mixed uses.

Ultimately, the best plan was to tear down the old mall and rebuild.

North Hills Live: What was your original vision for the property?

Kane & Smith: The vision has always been around place making. We wanted people to find everything they needed and wanted in one place, and we wanted to be the best of local, regional, and national shopping. We believed a great street feeling along with public spaces would make North Hills a great place to live, shop, work, or simply hang out.

North Hills Live: How did that vision come to life during the first 10 years?

Kane & Smith: North Hills quickly became the place where residents brought their out-of-town guests. Local business leaders brought their top recruits to North Hills for interview dinners. Locals made daily trips for the necessities and popped into Raleigh’s best local boutiques. The News & Observer referenced North Hills as “Raleigh’s version of Madison Avenue.”

North Hills Live: Who were some of those first retailers and tenants, and how did you recruit them?

Kane & Smith: We mixed local and national. We recruited many of the local “best of” retailers, such as Jolly’s Jewelers and Tyler House, and placed them next to popular national retailers like Starbucks and Panera Bread. The look and feel of the entire space was extremely important. The architectural attention to details mattered. With copper gutters and an overabundance of beautiful landscaping along the sidewalk, a “place” was quickly created.

North Hills Live: If you had to identify a “game changer” for North Hills, what would it be?

Kane & Smith: The opening of the Renaissance Raleigh North Hills Hotel changed everything for North Hills. While the North Hills mall was torn down in 2003, many locals still used that four-letter word. Next to The Umstead Hotel in Cary, the Renaissance Raleigh North Hills Hotel remains the nicest hotel in the Triangle. This hotel addition directly brought a mix of daily shoppers and diners, and indirectly brought greater brand recognition to North Hills.

North Hills Live: What are some of the lessons learned or insights gained since you began developing North Hills?

Kane & Smith: Fifteen years of near-continuous mixed-use construction has taught the team to carefully balance the building code requirements of different uses, particularly for fire and life safety. Better anticipating potential conflicts during the design process can substantially improve construction timelines and customer experiences. Precisely timed certificates of occupancy and detailed construction-staging plans can get tenants into their spaces even as construction continues all around.

Follow the blog during the next few weeks for parts two and three of the series, which will explore North Hills today and what’s to come.