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We Came, We Saw, We Stayed

By Michael Jaenicke

For many years Fayetteville residents often found ourselves trying to convince others that our city was a great place to live. Now, it seems, the rest of the country is catching on. Best Life Magazine recently listed Fayetteville in its “100 Best Places to Raise a Family” list. Fayetteville was named an All-American City in 1986, 2001 and 2011 and also last year The Daily Beast named Fayetteville the number one city for recent college graduates.

Why all these lofty honors?

Well, if you’re already here then you probably already know why, but just in case, here’s a short list of some of Fayetteville’s top strengths: cultural arts, affordability, a thriving economy, access to major highways, climate, hospitality, modern conveniences and services, historical landmarks, a patriotic feel, the rumbles from Fort Bragg, racial diversity, reminders of the Civil War and all the wars our nation has fought, active civic and business clubs, international cuisine, well-known restaurant chains and mom and pop shops, two minor league sports franchises, parks and recreational facilities, family values and venues, active night life, great educational institutions and numerous shopping options.

Sounds a lot like a big city, right? Not quite. The population of Fayetteville is 200,564, the sixth largest in the state. Toss in the metropolitan area and the population swells to 366,363. With all of those amenities available in a place that still boasts small town charm, it’s easy to wonder, what’s not to love about this big/little city?

"There’s really no place like Fayetteville," said longtime WKML morning radio personality Don Chase. “It’s has everything you need and marches to its own beat.”

But let’s talk money first.

Making Dollars, Making Sense

Fayetteville’s cost of living is 6 percent lower the U.S. average. Its unemployment rate of 6.7 percent is below the national average of 9.1 percent. Fayetteville has a cost of living index of 90.2. The nationwide index is 100 percent. Housing is also affordable. Last year the price for one square foot of residential real estate in the city was $75, with a sale price of $119,000. Health care in the metropolitan area is 2.2 percent less than the nationwide average and utilities are 1.5 percent less. Residents even save on the “little stuff,” such as groceries, which are 1.4 percent less than the U.S. average.

Large employers include Goodyear/Kelly Springfield Tire Co., which employs about 3,500; Purolator, which produces automotive filters; Wal-Mart, which has a distribution center, a super center and two other retail merchandise stores in the county; and Miller Motte College.

And that’s without even mentioning Fort Bragg, which is by far the area’s largest employer and which pumps about $3.5 billion a year into the region’s economy, making ours one of the best retail markets in the country.

Traffic & Weather — Or Not

As anyone who works in real estate will tell you, location is everything. Being a stone’s throw away from Interstate-95 makes it easy for residents to motor up and down the coast like a carefree travel writer. And while people often complain about congestion in the city, Fayetteville’s traffic pales in comparison to Charlotte and Raleigh and other so-called monster cities. Fayetteville has a 30-square mile radius and the average commute time of 22 minute is 8 minutes less than the national rate.

Plus, the weather is a bonus lifelong southerners might take for granted. Not having enough shorts and polo shirts to cover nine months is not a significant problem. The average temperature daily high is 72 degrees; the average low is 50. That 20-degree difference is often the standard any given day of the year. What is the best season? Many say it’s spring, and those who cherish spring often do so because they know summer can come in the blink of an eye, and when it does spring vanishes like David Copperfield’s assistant.

A new study by Del Webb says North Carolina has usurped Florida and Arizona as the nation’s No. 1 retirement state. The study said the trend was so persuasive that it spawned a new term, “half-back”, which describes retirees who retired to Florida from the northeast only to later move “half-way back” to their home states by settling in North Carolina.

While retirees are landing throughout the state, a top destination is Fayetteville which, according to the U.S. Census, has a racial makeup that is 42.74 percent white, 49.76 percent African American, 5.67% Hispanic, 2.19 percent Asian and 1.1 percent Native American, though the he number of Native Americans in Cumberland, Hoke and Robeson counties is larger.

But just what does Fayetteville have to offer people who decide to stay here? Buckle up — it’s a wild ride.

Culture Clubs

Cape Fear Regional Theatre has been a key player here for 50 years. The theater stages Broadway musicals, dramas and special events, such as its annual Blues and Brews Festival, which is now in its ninth year. The cast for shows includes a mixture of local talent and seasoned thespians from throughout the country. The theater also has children’s classes, programming and shows. Area businesses have supported and embraced the mission by bringing quality entertainment to CFRT.

A newer performer on the stage is the Gilbert Theatre, which opened its curtains in 1994. It specializes in staging more avant-garde productions, but annually performs the holiday classic “A Christmas Carol.”

Those who relish classical music have been treated to the Fayetteville Symphony Orchestra for the past 55 years. Maestro Fouad Fakhouri had lifted the orchestra to new heights, audiences and destinations during his tenure.

The Museum of the Cape Fear covers the state from the days of Indians and settlers to the Revolutionary War to WWI and WWI to Vietnam. The site consists of three buildings that contain the museum itself, the 1897 Poe House, and Arsenal Park.

All told, there are 15 museums in the city, each taking a different focus. The Transportation Museum takes visitors on virtual ride aboard steamboats and trains and features two floors filled with artifacts.

Nature is in blossom every day at the Cape Fear Botanical Garden, which opened in 1989 and has 77 acres filled with trails where visitors can see 2,000 varieties of ornamental plants, indigence plants, ponds and wildlife. The museum has numerous days throughout the year where there is not charge for entry. It also offers educational tours.

Fascinate-U Children’s Museum is an interactive and hands-on learning venue for children. But the granddaddy of all the museums might be the Airborne and Special Operations Museum downtown. Its emphasis is on United States military history, especially U.S. Army Airborne and Special Operations Forces. The museum has five permanent exhibits — Early Airborne, World War II, Korea and Cold War, Vietnam, and Contingency Operations and Training — and a temporary gallery, which changes. The interior and exterior of the building are magnificent and the structure is a must-see attraction for residents and visitors, as area the artifacts, uniforms, weapons, interactive displays, an inspirational documentary, along with a flight simulator that allows for a virtual parachute jump and helicopter attack. Also included is a Hall of Honors.

The prominent place the museum occupies in downtown Fayetteville’s landscape is indicative of the special love, appreciation and respect local residents have for the efforts of Fort Bragg, feelings that led to the city designating itself as American’s first “Sanctuary City” for troops and their families.

“When I was a teenager, New Years Eve was not complete without riding around and around the Market House, horns blaring and everyone shouting, and of course, a few firecrackers had to be thrown in,” said longtime resident Sue Byrd. “As for the booms from Ft. Bragg, their sound just became part of the background that was a part of growing up here.”

There are exceptional educational opportunities in Fayetteville via Fayetteville State University, Fayetteville Technical Community College, Methodist University, Troy University and Miller Motte.

“I attended three of these and each one expanded my skills and career,” said Billy Howell, who left the U.S. Army and has lived in Fayetteville for 22 years.

The Fayetteville/Cumberland County Chamber and the Fayetteville Young Professionals group are active and involved in many aspects of business and the community. The FYP is a network that fosters personal and professional development through relationship building, skill enhancement, community enrichment, and career advancement opportunities. The Chamber focuses on economic development, business partnerships and community affairs.

Historical landmarks and buildings are a part of the fiber of the city, from Civil War and World War I and II monuments to buildings and houses that scream thoughts about the past.

Festivals, parades and large gathering are a Fayetteville specialty — from The Dogwood Festival this month to the International Folk Festival, to the Umoja Festival, to monthly Fourth Friday events.

“I love living here because there is just enough going on,” said Fayetteville resident Bailey Jones. “I get out for the festivals and concerts because I meet the wonderful people of this city. It’s unique place with unique mix of people. And Southern hospitality is at a premium.”

Likewise, the mighty Cape Fear River is a vital part of the landscape of the city. Memories of it are not forgotten with the passage of time.

“My Dad use to put a rope around my waist, and let me have the freedom of roaming the banks while he was fishing on the Cape Fear River,” said Louise Godwin.

Byrd agreed.

“I water skied a few times down the Cape Fear, dodging logs all the way. Not the safest place to ski. But makes a great memory years later.”

What’s For Dinner — Or Lunch

There are more than 200 restaurants and eateries in the city and locals certainly love to patronize them. You might even say that dining out is Fayetteville’s favorite pastime. Choices include Asian, Mediterranean, Japanese, Chinese, Thai, Greek, Indian, German, Middle Eastern, Mexican, South American and Italian.

American bistros, some independent and some chains, include Ruby Tuesday, Chili’s, Outback, Logan’s Road House, Chris’ Steakhouse, Olive Garden, Smithfield Barbecue, Aspen Creek, 316 Oyster Bar Seafood, Joe’s Crab Shack, Cracker Barrel, Red Lobster, Cheddar’s, Texas Roadhouse, Carrabba’s, Mellow Mushroom, Panera Bread and Golden Corral which, incidentally, opened it’s very first location right here in Fayetteville.

Lesser known — to outsiders, perhaps — but fantastic establishments nonetheless include Circa 1800, The Mash House, Latitude 35, Luigi’s, Haymont Grill, Huske Hardware House, ScrubOaks, Hilltop House Restaurant, Morgan’s Chop House and Pierro’s Italian Bistro.