Raleigh’s Unique Elements Still a Mystery

This is kind of a thinker post that I wanted to put out there. I haven’t talked about Raleigh’s image, including the image we’re trying to give off, in awhile but it is something that I’m always sort of thinking about.

I was watching a talk from Aaron Renn about Columbus, Ohio a few weeks ago. Normally, I wouldn’t catch this sort of thing but since I find myself in Columbus once or twice a year and I like Renn’s work, I watched the talk.

This one quote really stuck with me as he talked to a crowd about what people around the country are saying about Columbus.

The more different you are as a city, the easier it is to get market attention and that’s what I’ve kind of noticed that while every company tries its hardest to tell you how much different and better it is than every other company, every city basically tries its hardest to tell you how it’s exactly the same as every other city that’s conventionally considered cool.

*Where Does Columbus Go From Here?

I agree with Renn 100%. I’m not in marketing but for those that are, I’d love an explanation on that. That seems to be counter to what marketing is supposed to do.

Below, I’ve embedded the talk but started at the relevant question with Renn’s full answer. If the video doesn’t show for you, click here to watch it on YouTube.

I wanted to see if that was true for Raleigh. How unique are we? Without having the resources for a full-on marketing effectiveness analysis (or whatever this might be called) I looked at what our Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitors Bureau was putting out there.

I watched the most recent video published from Visit Raleigh. Here it is below. (YouTube Link here)

To sum up, Raleigh:

  • Makes top ten lists
  • We have museums
  • We have a music scene
  • We have creative people
  • There are shops
  • There are restaurants
  • More cooking and good food
  • Dinosaurs
  • We have sports
  • More arts
  • More museums
  • We have street festivals
  • We have bars, coffee shops, and restaurants
  • We have outdoor music stages
  • We have places to drink beer
  • We have more art

Another watch shows quick shots of food trucks, the trolley pub, people walking on sidewalks, the Cary Theater, Ashworth Drugs in Cary, and fireworks.

While the production level of the video is high and those interviewed have done some great things in Raleigh, I’m sad to say there isn’t anything unique there as this list of items can be found in a lot of other cities around the country.

Also, no greenways? Really?

I’m going to pick on John532 who posted in the comments a little while back that, “IMO, the city is way too humble and needs to go on a ‘bragging tour’ and sell itself better.”

There may be more material out there showing how unique Raleigh is but it doesn’t seem easy to find. I too would like to see some unique elements pulled out of this city and broadcast out for the world to see.

The thinking piece for you, reader, is what should, or even could, that be? What unique thing could we take a chance on?

I have my ideas but want to end the post here and take it to the comments.

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  1. Just got back from Portland. Their vibe and craft is all about keeping it weird and keeping it local. From hand made goods, to beer, to the music scene.

    In Raleigh I see opportunity for a similar hallmark, but I think it should revolve around the one thing that seemingly everyone from everywhere already knows. Raleigh is one of the most friendly cities in the U.S.

    People from all over the U.S. constantly tell me that they loved Raleigh and felt it was unbelievably welcoming and hospitable. I could really see the city running with a theme like that.

    I think House of Swank did a shirt with the Y’all means All slogan, and I think for city branding purposes there might be something there.

  2. I see a big flaw on this video immediately. They mention diversity, but they sure as heck did not show it. Every person they interviewed was Caucasian from what I saw. The majority of businesses they showed were those that appeal to the 20/30 something white professional (or maybe hipsters).
    Raleigh has a vibrant African-American community and businesses….where were they?
    The Latino ones? Asian-American businesses anyone? Arab-American community? Raleigh has the Carolina’s most active Gay District, but I didn’t see it either.
    They showed street fairs and music festivals but none of the ones we have that are multi-cultural or international, even though we all know that we have many.
    I am a white male and even I noticed this right off the bat. I can only imagine what others will see. :-(

  3. As a musician and one who has been involved in various original bands in Wilmington and Raleigh, I see a lot of room for improvement in the music scene here. People always claim that we have a ton of local music, but a large chunk of it is made up of cover bands that aren’t producing any art. They are regurgitating other artist’s work (9/10 times worse than the original). Of the local bands that are writing original, unique music, there is very little cohesion or community support.

    For example, in Wilmington it is very easy to put on a local music festival showcasing 7-8 original bands that all know each other and all play *relatively* similar styles, in the sense that it draws a crowd well because attendees know that they will enjoy most if not all of the music. The local festivals I’ve attended here usually bounce from strange hip hop collective, to indie/punk band, to avett brothers rip off… and the event feels very forced…

    Music is tough, because it’s so subjective… and I’m biased.
    But we are really lacking a strong local original music scene – especially in the jazz, bluegrass, jam rock, eclectic music styles. Also, there is just less of a “I want this local band to succeed” attitude here from venue owners and audience members alike.. hard to explain, but as a musician and audience member I feel it. I know it’s not a unique feature to a city, but having a strong local scene attracts new artists into the community, more and better bands are formed, new venues open up, more festivals/shows are booked, new booking/branding agencies open, etc. etc. Next thing you’re regarded as a music center, like Nashville, Austin, or Asheville.

    How do we get there? We probably won’t – but I imagine that NC state could play a huge role being our local university with a relatively weak music program. Austin has UT with one of the best jazz programs in the country; Nashville has Belmont with an incredible music dept.

    Thank you for letting me vent here.

  4. Agree on the comment about greenways.

    I think much more could be done with the “City in a Forest” moniker.

  5. We have a good public school system, where EVERY child can get a decent education. Now that is truly unique for an American city!

  6. Raleigh should focus on its diversity! The universities and RTP bring such a diverse range of peoples. What follows them is the diverse food, music, and culture! This should be promoted- along with all the greenspace- parks, greenways, and museums!

  7. That’s one of my ideas, to own this “City in a Park” thing. If I was king and could just get it done, I’d plant trees everywhere. I would:
    – Have the city transportation department create new sidewalk and median designs to incorporate trees in them.
    – Budget for an expanded landscape maintenance team to plant and maintain the greatly increased tree inventory.
    – Hire more urban foresters (we have some already)
    – Implement new parking lot designs that require more trees
    – Work with architects to create rooftop gardens and green spaces into buildings. (The skyline should have trees on top of it)
    – Constantly monitor the Raleigh tree canopy and make sure it is growing, not being reduced.

    It may not be the best idea. The problem is that we won’t know if anyone’s idea is good until we try it and see what happens years (decades) later. They all sound crazy right now, which is why I like this exercise cause you can think outside-the-box. Ideas that we all agree on, I bet, will be diluted down and deemed “safe.” (generic)

  8. Just FYI, I’m in a 2 Raleigh bands and play with various Raleigh bands and musicians on the regular, and I disagree with many of Evan’s points. Not going to sit and argue about the music scene, though I certainly agree that community support could ALWAYS look to be better, but don’t just take one guy’s opinion as gospel. Ok fine, I’ll sit and argue… The Raleigh music scene is thriving and getting better and better every year. A big factor for the seeming lack of community support comes from the fact that young people -by and large- cannot afford to live in Downtown proper. The more young people (as in 20s-early 30s) that live within downtown limits, the more people that will just walk down the street to go see a show – not even knowing what the show is. Young people aren’t going to spend hard earned money to drive/park or Uber downtown to see something they have no guarantee they will like.

    There are an insane amount of original acts in Raleigh (remember, “rock” isn’t the only genre), and I barely see any cover bands on any bills at my favorite venues (Lincoln Theater is about the only one I see regularly booking cover bands, and most of those aren’t even local). But NEWSFLASH: cover bands are EVERYWHERE, and they won’t go away any time soon. They make money. I don’t get it, either, but they do, apparently. Also: “How do we get there? We probably won’t” – GREAT attitude. Now, I do think the city should be more involved in pushing our scene. When the Capital Soundspace building was being sold for redevelopment, that would’ve been a great time for the City that claims to be the “arts capital of the south” to step in and buy/renovate a long-standing practice space that hundreds of Raleigh musicians relied on. Now, many are stranded. But look at what Kings/Neptunes are doing. A new, FREE improvised music series downstairs. Local acts opening up almost every touring show that comes through. The Great Cover-Up, an annual event that draws a line around the block. Shows going on at both venues on the same night, offering endless options for live music each week. That’s just one venue taking big ideas and making them reality. Now, we must allow for the public to catch on. But again, the more corporate and expensive we allow our city to become > the less young, creative people that can live within Downtown limits > the less our music scene is supported. It’s not all on the musicians shoulders.

  9. Raleigh has some of the same quirkiness as Portland and Austin without the self-aware pretensions about it, which could be a huge asset.

    We have always had a fantastic indie music scene. Up to the mid-80s, Raleigh was the nucleus of that scene, but that ended some time after the closing of the Village Subway, and the scene moved to Chapel Hill and Durham after that.

    One thing I’d do is bring back the Village Subway. It’s historic, it’s quirky and unique, and it would be well-supported by the students and staff at NCSU.

  10. Jake, I’m glad you’ve had success in this music scene, as have I. Perhaps we should jam, I play keys :) Also, thanks for the tip about Neptune’s improv series – I’ll see you there Wed.

    Definitely don’t take my opinion as gospel, but having played in original bands based in downtown Wilmington and DTR for years in both towns, that is my experience. And again it’s very subjective – I don’t enjoy metal, punk, obscure indie rock, or vulgar rap. I like funk, jazz, eclectic rock, bluegrass, jazz fusion, world music, etc. which I hunger for more of.

    Of course this is a bigger, more spread out town and it’s easier to miss hip events, and your point about walkability/livability DT is crucial. Rent for venues is higher DTR also, which drives the need to book artists that will sell out, regardless of style or creativity. It also means higher cover charges and more of those dollars going to overhead rather than the musicians.

  11. @Andy Kuhn, I think that you are onto something with leveraging off of the “Y’all means All” T-shirts. It is a perfect foundation for almost anything. Though we know that the shirt was in retaliation to HB2, it can be a foundation for talking about the music scene, the arts scene, the diversity of communities, business, recreation, etc. It also perfectly conveys Raleigh’s friendliness. Y’all Means All is also a very catchy slogan that is memorable and it perfectly blends the city’s Southern roots with its welcoming history that has made all the city is today possible.
    A big part of my job is brand integration into my company’s workplaces and customer facing facilities around the world and I truly believe that a strong brand identity is the emotional hook that the city needs to take it to the next level. Certainly Raleigh has all the superior dry metrics but those things do not grab you by the heart strings and make you feel connected the way that an identity can. We cannot stand by and watch other cities in the Triangle, the state or the region steal Raleigh’s thunder. The city has worked way too hard over the decades to elevate it to where it is now but it’s time to take it to the next level.
    Finally, thanks for the shout-out Leo for mentioning my previous comment. Needless to say, I love this topic.

  12. I’ve always thought that Raleigh could easily be the Portland of the East.

    I think we need to emphasize:
    1)The RESEARCH Triangle. Having three world class universities so close together makes this area unique. We also have one of the best public school systems of any major city in the country.

    2) “City of Oaks”/”City in a Park” theme with our great parks network and greenway system. Dix Park is going to help this even more. (A water feature is needed desperately).

    3) Our political activism. I was listening to NPR on Saturday evening when the All Things Considered host said something like “Women’s Marches occurred in many major cities across America today, including New York, LA, Seattle and Raleigh”. I was stunned to hear Raleigh included with that group.

    Areas that can improve:

    1) “Arts Capital of the South” – More outdoor public art. We need to have a large and iconic art piece that all tourists visit and take pictures.

    2) Better architecture. When people visit downtown, they should stop and say “That’s a cool looking building”. It would really help our image if we had some unique buildings that people associate with Raleigh.

  13. Better arts and better architecture come when there is a better brand that makes the investment of money and time worth it.

  14. Guys, don’t overlook the Victorian houses, some of which are being restored at the moment. Driving on Blount St. from Peace St. to DT is a unique experience – sort of a time travel.

  15. I agree that I’d love to see an improved music and arts scene in Raleigh. Specifically, we should fully embrace the bluegrass momentum that we’ve gotten from the annual World of Bluegrass festival. That is where we could create some uniqueness.

    I think Dix Park could be a real unique draw, if we do it right. I would love to see there be a funky, iconic structure of some sort built out there amid a world-class park.

    Leo, definitely agree on the trees. In addition to the unique and beautiful aspects of urban trees, they are directly tied to a healthier population. combine with with an embrace of cycling and Raleigh could be a model healthy and vibrant city.

    This one might be more difficult to achieve, but one of the main reasons businesses and individuals have moved to Raleigh over the past 2 decades is our relative affordability – What if we could maintain that even as the city grows and becomes more and more attractive? Being an affordable city to live would certainly attract more and more creative and unique residents, which would in turn, allow for a more creative and unique city. Easier said than done, I know, but I think this could be the real game changer setting Raleigh apart from the crowd of other fast growing cities.

  16. So many are mentioning the music scene, but that is certainly buyer beware. What has plagued Travis County is the rising cost of living and it squeezes out those with the least financial stability (aka the artists, craftsman, etc.) This has become a point of contention in Austin to the point denizens wonder where the music went. It seems to be moving out of town and to other cheaper markets like Waco and Ft. Worth.

    Should we as a city push for an arts vibe we need to be hyper sensitive to creating a community where artists can flourish and where they can also live and work.

  17. All of these comments speak to the richness of diversity in Raleigh. Yes, Raleigh has a rich history in Victorian houses that @Pavel mentions but it also has a rich history in Modern architecture as evident in the large collection of Mid-Century Modern homes and has a strong modern home scene continuing to this day.
    So far, most of the comments are aligning to the idea of diversity in (fill in the blank) with comments like “don’t forget________.”
    Stories about our diversity can be told on each subtopic from different viewpoints upon the singular brand foundation.

  18. I agree with the iconic structure built at Dix Park… something big such as the Space Needle as an example…. sitting on top of that hill overlooking downtown Raleigh would be tremendous….

  19. When I started reading comments on the music scene I remember the underground along with many local bands playing in clubs along Hillsborough Street. Susan Sarandon was there one night while filming Bull Durham. That was a lost but Downtown was hurting. The railroad property Davie Street (dates to late 1800’s) being turned into shops with Videri chocolate is awesome. The 1053 Whitaker Mill warehouse being converted into cool spaces shows that there is hope that we can utilize and convert some under utilized space into something great. There will be some great water features in the Moore Square renovations. We need to push the greenways and NCSU’s impact on the area. We just need to improve (capital Blvd & New Bern Avenue) without losing too many Sadlacks that give character. Great article Leo and great comments

  20. Iconic individual items/buildings/fountains/ etc. are nice but the issue is bigger than that. It’s about who we are that makes us unique, special and desirable. It’s that special essence that draws others to the city. It’s about making people want to be part of who we are because it will improve their lives. It’s about people making investments in the city because our brand will make their brand stronger. It’s about setting us apart from our competitors in the market and making people want to live our brand through their actions because it’s that strong and important. It’s about pride.

  21. NC state / ACC basketball. That’s what makes us unique. It permeates the city. Talked about in business meetings, on at every bar. It’s in our DNA. Let’s ride that wave.

  22. BC, not to be a butt, but the Southern Railway depot was built in 1912. But it is still a gem and anchors an important character laden corner of downtown.
    Also, sure we have some beautiful Victorian houses in Oakwood and some adjacent areas, but be reminded the entire Maiden Lane National Historic District is slated for demolition for some more crappy apartments unless the City conditions the approval of a partial street closure with saving some of them. Given the City’s recent track record here (has done nothing to save three such homes at Ashe/Hillsborough e.g among a ton of others), so the elected members couldn’t give a flying crap about using that as an identity.
    Our modernist architecture IS nationally renown as several noted architects that worked during that style’s formative era, came from NC State. And its still going strong.
    As far as “Portland of the East”, all I can say is I wish. I would personally hand that title to Richmond. The actual cast of Portlandia also referred to Durham being more Portlandia than Portland, so Raleigh doesn’t even win in its own neighborhood. Again, I do sincerely wish, but we are just too ‘white bread’, too much bro culture, and too many neighborhoods that skip straight from high crime to only-upper-middle-class-can-afford-to-live-here-now gentrified. That point where houses get creatively fixed up with funky garden lawns, and sell for a price the median income can afford to pay…we mostly skip right over that. Mordecai came closest to being Portland like, but even as I jogged through tonight I observed 4 recent tear down and rebuilds (like last two years, one just finishing up) all along Courtland. I’m not sure what our brand is or should be….high tech seems most appropriate with RTP+Centennial campus leading a bonafide charge there. But no branding agencies, or elected officials really try and leverage that with any gusto. Maybe that’d bring too much attention from the Legislature…

  23. I think that Raleigh is still small enough to not be sure of what it truly wants to be…but Raleigh is a great place to:
    Start and raise a family
    Start and grow a business…then sale it of course, Lol!
    I think that Raleigh’s biggest attraction is that it’s in the middle of every place you want to be or everything you want to do…from here you’re not far from…
    The mountains
    The coast
    The larger cities
    The amusement parks
    The zoo
    The other major sports teams
    And of course you can get there from here via bus, train, interstate, RDU…etc
    And still you can come back to safe ole Mayberry (I mean Raleigh of course Lol) back to your safe neighborhood.
    What will a larger, bigger and more diverse Raleigh look and feel like? Who knows, but I look forward to the ongoing journey! :-)

  24. What would you want this “marketing effectiveness analysis” to tell you? If your question is “how unique are we?” perhaps someone can run some numbers and see variations in CVB websites for variations in text. However, recent growth statistics, migration patterns give a hint to that answer.

    I read through some/most of the comments, and they all hit on some really good points, obviously things that are important to each person. My general answer to all of this is that Raleigh should continue to nurture those strengths. However, even then there should be strategic, intentional growth – and that means public/private.

    A report can be put together with all of these ideas – music, education, arts, events, tech, etc., and give baselines, goals, and how and when we get there.

    To stick with the greenways example, we could say that Raleigh has 114 miles, 3700 acre system. And besides a “goal” of having interconnected trails, an add-on could be to double that number by 2030. Like you said, it sounds crazy and we don’t see the fruit for a few years, even decades down the road, but if that goal (or any other) is met, then it would carve out the “image” that is being given out.

    The 2030 comprehensive plan is good – it gives a “how do we get there” from a policy perspective, but it doesn’t really tell anyone where “there” is, and on top of that, it doesn’t give the citizens a call to action – how they can be involved in helping get there.

    I remember back when we went to that Strong Towns talk and you came out of that meeting asking, “What do I do now?”
    If these goals for Raleigh are the goals of the people, then the answer would be “we can make this vision a reality if you commit to supporting the arts, the music scene, supporting local restaurants, making an effort to utilize the existing greenways, etc.” Of course it would be more detailed than that, but most importantly, it would provide the public a role in getting there, or not.

  25. Well as some of you know from my previous posts on here, I’m am a bit of a history buff and am more fascinated with what Raleigh used to be rather than what it is becoming. Being born and raised here, I have a hard time pinpointing exactly what it is that is unique about this place because I did not come here by choice, but I stayed.

    This was always a government town, full of politicians and lawyers. A planned capital that only happened because the commissioners got a little too tipsy on their way to Hillsborough and started running their mouths at Isaac’s Tavern, only to wake up the next day with a deed to the swamp land that became Raleigh. There was no real industry here until IBM came to town in the late ’50s. The locals haven’t always been so welcoming to the newcomers either.

    Most of our cool historic landmarks have been destroyed long ago and we have only started caring about our downtown again within the past 20 years. Hot topics on this thread are about things that were here a century ago but were neglected and ripped out like rotten teeth (public transit, sports stadiums, grocery stores, affordable innercity housing).

    So what makes us unique Leo? I don’t know. If they say Detroit is America’s ghetto, then I think Raleigh is America’s suburb. Forests and farms have became bland subdivisions and strip malls with the same big box stores. Old neighborhoods are parking lots or state owned burdens. Our history (especially black history) has been erased or forgotten. We now have a booming tech and pharma industry and the options for education here are top notch. I laugh when they say Raleigh is an art capital.

    To sum it up, I’ve often thought of Raleigh as a redneck city in a turtleneck.

  26. Rock on, @Leo – another great thread to browse here!

    Love @John532’s comment: “IMO, the city is way too humble and needs to go on a “bragging tour” and sell itself better.”

    Love @RaleighRob’s rant on the need to emphasize our diversity more aggressively. The ethnic diversity is definitely one of our defining characteristics – let’s brag about it, celebrate it, and market it as our city’s identity! Expand the International Festival and Fiesta del Pueblo into much larger scale funkier indoor/outdoor events that literally take over the entire downtown when they happen.

    Love @Leo and @Dustin calling for a “City In a Forest” branding. And like Leo said, double-down on this, spreading trees everywhere (even rooftops) and customize sidewalks to go around and emphasize our trees. I know we’re the City of Oaks, but I do wonder if crepe myrtles might be a more compelling branding tree species for the Raleigh area. They really thrive here, and bring long-lasting vivid summer color.

    @Paul makes a good point on our political activism. Political rallies are quirky and interesting, and could be a fairly unique branding factor for us as a swing state capital with lots of political drama and activism happening.

    The local music scene is important to any vibrant city, but as @Evan points out, the lack of a strong music department at NC State definitely hurts. Actually, it would really help if NC State donors and steering committees focused hard on expanding Liberal Arts programs in general. That would make NC State a more intellectually interesting and well-rounded university. As for the bluegrass angle: I’m not a musician, but if local musicians could maybe develop a fusion music genre, mixing bluegrass with, say, world music, something interesting might evolve. I admit that I find listening to pure bluegrass on the car radio quickly becomes monotonous, though I do admire the musicianship.

    Lastly, my own contribution: it occurs to me that one of the end objectives to all of this branding discussion is to attract visitors to Raleigh – to create a bonafide tourist industry. The good news is: we have that table already set. The annual Carolina Heritage Guide ranks the 30 top attractions in NC. How about a little numbers game? Of the top 10 attractions, fully 6 of them are here in Raleigh! They include #1, the Museum of Natural History, #5 the NC Zoo (close enough to claim), #6 Marbles, #7 NC Museum of History, #8 the Museum of Life and Sciences (Durham but close enough to claim) and #9 the Museum of Art. By comparison, Charlotte has only one top 10 entry, #4 Discovery Place. Digging deeper, I notice that #11 is the NC Arboretum in Asheville…if we could expand NCSU’s Raulston Arboretum south and west (and add more trees!), and do some heavy advertising, maybe our Arboretum could break into the top 10 attractions. I also notice that the small aquariums at Fort Fisher and Pine Knoll are #12 and #14. How about a newer and slightly larger aquarium in downtown Raleigh? That would easily become a top 10 entry. And as mentioned by @Teddy, something extra special at Dix Park – that could also make the top 10! So, we could potentially sweep the top 10 permanent attractions in NC, and bring in a lot of tourism. As a disparate group, they wouldn’t be useful in creating our local identity, but they could create a tourism industry that doesn’t currently exist. And while they are here, visitors would a captive audience for our local branding treatment – whatever that happens to be.

  27. I really love the conversation that has happened around this already. A lot of great ideas from different people. Personally, I agree with Robert that one of the things I love about the area is how I am a half day drive from so many different places including…
    Mountains and the Blue Ridge Parkway
    Great beaches
    Big cities
    One of the largest zoos

    Not to mention how much there is to do right here without getting out of town, such as Umstead, greenways, sports, festivals, etc.

    We also have a growing business and startup community here, but in a way that seems to recognize that business isn’t everything and family is important also. That sets us apart from many other startup areas that seem to be all about young people without any family and grinding away nonstop.

    I was tossing around slogans based on some of these thoughts and one that came to mind was ‘build’ or maybe ‘create’. It could be used as a basis for many aspects of Raleigh.
    Create family
    Create a business
    Create community
    Create connections
    Create music
    Create art
    Create Raleigh

  28. @Renpark John,
    Most of the places you mentioned are state entities. Only Marbles and Discovery Place are technically private. I doubt the state would be willing to build a new aquarium for us, and the coastal legislators would raise hell. Also, the NC Botanical Garden is right on the Blue Ridge Parkway, so it gets a lot of spillover from Parkway drivers. (I’m not trying to be a wet blanket, but we should be realistic). Personally, I think you have the right idea, but we should focus on creating our own attractions rather than trying to steal those of other places. My first choice would be a technology museum. Discovery Place mixed with Air and Space in DC. Nobody travels to Charlotte exclusively to go to Discovery Place, so I doubt we’d really be in direct competition. Realistically, any of the energy that would get devoted to an attraction is going to Dix Park for the next two decades.

  29. Ideas:
    Above the Oaks: series of architecturally-unique observation towers around the city center connected by street-network of bike paths. (highlights our tree canopy, outdoorsy, and skyline identities).

    Sports Fan Museum: highlighting various unique cultures, events, and traditions of sports fans from around the world. (highlights our passion for sports)

  30. All the ideas so far are great. I do believe that public art could be our biggest attraction. The NCMA has already started the process with a world class collection both inside and out and we have Dix Park, multiple areas downtown and the entire greenway where significant artworks could be placed. We have the amazing world class curators at the NCMA who would be thrilled to help find artwork and they often can get it on temporary loan if we can’t afford it. Art in our park system and downtown in addition to the NCMA could put us on the map as a destination. Think of smaller European cities that have the attention of tourists primarily because of their art. Or think of Chicago and how their public art has become their main attraction.

  31. Raleigh should focus it efforts to create a more vibrant, walkable downtown. When I think of great cities to visit close by, I think of Charleston, Asheville, Blowing Rock, Greenville, SC… These place allow you to abandon the car to visit parks, museums, shopping, restaurants, etc. You can literally spend a day or an entire weekend never having to step foot in a car. Raleigh has many of these great things. However, if you want shopping, you must drive to North Hills or an area mall. If you want museums, you must drive to the NCMA. Umstead park is great, but again, you must drive to it. Sporting events, same story. There are many wonderful things in and around Raleigh (including Durham and Chapel Hill). Specifically, if the city would make an effort to attract shopping to the downtown core, it would be a huge boon for the region. Someone mentioned a row of shopping….great idea. Can you imagine what a Nordstrom or large retailer downtown would do to bring additional businesses and people to the area? I feel bad for the small shops in downtown right now. It is simply too much effort for someone from outside of downtown to visit those retailers. However, if there we more of them and you could make a day of it, it would probably add to their long term success. The restaurants are already there.

  32. so many eye rolls. Raleigh should take clues from Blowing Rock’s downtown?!?!?!????????? it’s 3 blocks. maybe 4.

  33. Ok. So maybe Blowing Rock is a poor example. Although I always find it a nice excursion. What about the other cities I mentioned? Or did you get so offended by my mention of Blowing Rock that you can’t engage in constructive dialogue?

  34. Raleigh is nothing like Portland. Many folks are projecting what they want Raleigh to be. Sorry, but music is not a strength. Highlight the strengths: High Tech, ACC Sports (make a bid to move ACC headquarters from Greensboring), Museums, Historic sites/structures, Southeast Capital of Parades and Festivals,the three triangle major universities, and the general quality of life that draws thousands of new residents.

    Raleigh: The Unquirky Paradise

  35. Keith,
    Charleston and Asheville are unfair comparisons. They both have large, urban, historic downtowns that cater to large numbers of well-heeled tourists. We’ll never be either place. Greenville’s a great comparison but I think the city is already doing as much as they did. In regards to retail, the issue downtown isn’t so much a lack of retailers as a lack of space. The city has been actively working to attract retail downtown, but they can’t actually build retail spaces, that’s up to the private sector.

  36. Spotted Malik downtown today @ Raleigh Times for lunch. Hopefully, thats a good sign that he’s still scouting Downtown for stadium sites.

  37. @Steve, commenting on my suggestion that we are in a good position to sweep the top 10 places to visit in the state of NC, you note that “Most of the places you mentioned are state entities. Only Marbles and Discovery Place are technically private. I doubt the state would be willing to build a new aquarium for us, and the coastal legislators would raise hell.”

    So what if some of our attractions are state-owned? They are HERE in Raleigh now, and they aren’t going away, so we benefit from them, as would a growing tourism industry. Whether an attraction is state-owned or private doesn’t matter in the context of promoting our attractions and building a tourism industry.

    On an aquarium in downtown Raleigh, you say “coastal legislators would raise hell”. Forget about ’em! They only have a say in state projects. The city could build the aquarium – it’s a very inexpensive bang for the buck as attractions go, which is why many cities have them. It could go into a renovated structure, for example in a place similar to the Briggs building where the COR Museum is. Admission prices defray maintenance costs, and visitors come, explore, and spend dollars downtown. And unlike stadiums and amphitheaters, the attraction can be open almost 365 days a year – win-win-win.

    @Mike: I like the sports museum idea…like the aquarium, it is “low-hanging fruit” – a low cost-of-entry attraction for the city to bring on-line, by renovating an existing structure downtown. Again – unlike stadiums and amphitheaters, it can be open almost all the time, generating a stream of visitors and dollars into downtown.

    Don’t underestimate what a game-changer a museum idea can be…look at Cleveland OH, now best known as site of the “Rock and Roll Museum”.

    @Mike: Really like the “Above the Oaks” idea of observation towers peeking over the tree canopy with interesting views. This idea combines both art and attraction, and ties into “City in a Forest” without shooting for the moon with some mega-project like the Seattle Space Needle…win-win-win!

    @Glen: “The NCMA has already started the process with a world class art collection both inside and out, and we have Dix Park…where significant artworks could be placed. We have amazing world class curators at the NCMA who would be thrilled to help find artwork and they often can get it on temporary loan if we can’t afford it.”

    What a fantastic thought, Glen! NCMA helping to bring Dix Park into the picture NOW rather than LATER!

  38. @ Keith
    One option could be to combine art/mobility and create a new image for Raleigh would be that proposed “people mover” by those engineers at NC State University?

  39. @Uncle Jesse, That it hopefully a good sign. Recognize any ‘movers & shakers’ he was talking to while at the Times?

  40. I could not see who Steve Malik was meeting with. We literally walked in together. I sat at the bar to order lunch; he walked around the corner.

  41. The MLS bid is due in a week. I should hope that the stadium plan is set.

    I would love an aquarium downtown. With History, science and CAM already downtown, you could have a “Museum Row” of sorts.

    Why can’t City Market be the area with unique shopping and retail? With a little TLC, that place could easily become a go-to destination for tourists. Especially after the Moore Square Reno.

  42. I agree^^ there’s momentum in city market now. City sushi and phonomenol dumplings are new additions and there’s plan for a tap House across Blount right?

    Just saw a post on New Raleigh about an arts collective in Southeast Raleigh with studio space etc. Would love to see a true arts district in an underutilized section of town where rent is cheap.

  43. As more residential complexes pop up near City Market, I’m hoping the area can finally support it. The city needs to invest in it. I would love to see something like the Umbrella Street in Portugal,

  44. Keith I like that you brought up Blowing Rock because it made me mentally walk through my last visit there. Its a tourist town for sure, but a walkable one no doubt and people like it for that reason. Steve I think Asheville’s Victorian trough Roaring 20’s build out is comparable to what Raleigh’s was. Charleston though as you State, was much more robust starting in colonial times and extending through the entire antebellum era.
    Anyway, the general points hold true being insinuated, that the historic infrastructure, in critical mass needed to support any a Raleigh that resembles any of those three, is long gone, and continues to be ripped out. The Reliable Loan set of buildings dated to 1877. Poof. 140’s years of character gone because neither Greg Sandreuter or Highwoods can see anything but glass walled profits. If that is our fate, then I think the glass walled monoliths must be creatively built and embrace technology at every turn as I previously suggested.

  45. Things that I want for Raleigh

    Downtown Stadium (prefer minor league baseball, certainly would support soccer as well)
    City Zoo (much smaller than NC Zoo)
    College Basketball Hall of Fame…..Raleigh and the triangle are the epicenter for college basketball. We need that from Kansas City.

    ALways thought that the Dix park would be perfect for a mix between city park (100 acres or so) and a place for an aquarium or zoo and college basketball hall of fame complex.

    I know I know……I’ll keep dreaming.

  46. Yeah zoo’s are lame (IMO IMO IMO). How about relocating red hat amphitheater to the natural bowl at Dix Park field?

    Seriously, this area in Dix field could make the sweetest venue.
    The grade already has a stadium feel, unlike existing red hat, the flat concrete wasteland full of permanent chairs that for some reason is facing away from the skyline…

    Would be a huge endeavor to build, but there’s already tons of parking around. I know people will rebut with the “it won’t get year round use”, and to that I’d say what are you going to put there that will always be used and remains an outdoor amenity? This is my “downtown stadium pipe dream”.

  47. Leo, what a great thread and great discussion. You’re in a league of your own and have been doing it longer than all of the other downtown Raleigh “blogs”. Very refreshing to get this level of detail vs. new bar and restaurant rumors.

  48. Lock animals up for our amusement? They are more than taken care of. I wouldn’t worry too much about them.

  49. @evan, I like your idea of moving redhat amphitheater. I’m sure many on here will disagree but I think Dix would be much better served being part park and part something else. This city doesn’t need a 300 acre “destination park.”

  50. Well, Dix Park also includes the some DHHS buildings that have the option to stay for 25 years, and the Dix Campus, which is several acres. So, there will be a mixture of uses there (the city wants to save most of the dix campus). I think moving the amphitheater out to the park makes a lot of sense long-term. Currently it’s only like 4 acres, so it would be less than 2% of the park’s area. Plus, the current amphitheater site will hopefully include some kind of high rise (even if it’s just a hotel attached to an expanded convention center).

  51. As an urban downtown, Raleigh is way behind the curve due to its late start. The city needs more corporate businesses, more retail, more hotels (hopefully with good designs), more restaurants, and more entertainment venues.

    30 years ago, there was absolutely nothing of worth in DT Raleigh. Memorial Auditorium for a concert or going to the Berkeley Cafe. Otherwise, it was completely dead. Almost nobody lived in DT back then. Then, in the late 80’s, the City Market was restored along with the creation of Artspace. There was Greenshields at the market and then 42nd Street Oyster Bar on Jones and a few other establishments. It wasn’t until the latter part of the 90’s when Tir Na Nog showed up on Moore Square and Glenwood South was in its infancy.

    Even without unbridled growth, downtown Raleigh has come a long way since 2000. It went from “nothing” to a respectable small urban core. Just keep growing, baby.

  52. Evan I never realized that bowl was back there on the east edge of the big field until Raleigh had its extravaganza thing this summer. That little corner might actually be a good spot for a low intensity type amphitheater (less manipulation of the area than say the NCMA one). Maybe just flatten out a half dozen terraces facing a single stage area. Normally I’m leaning more natural, and fewer hard surfaces, but this spot at least has me thinking you’re on to something…

  53. I don’t think a high rise will go up on the RH amphitheater location. It would ruin the city’s “money shot” of the convention center.

  54. @Evan, I’ve always grumbled about this!!

    “unlike existing red hat, the flat concrete wasteland full of permanent chairs that for some reason is facing away from the skyline…”

  55. This is kind of “out there” I know, but what about a classic old-style wooden roller coaster–contoured into the sloping hills on the edge of the park–along with a Ferris wheel with DT views? It would be best suited for the periphery of the park, so it wouldn’t “divide” the park too much…maybe hugging Lake Wheeler or down along Western. I’ve always thought this would be such a cool thing for families visiting the park. Add to that a greenway connecting Dix to Crabtree Creek GW or downtown itself…can you tell I love outdoor activities?!?

    Now, know that I’m not talking about turning Dix into a full blown theme park by any means. But many cities have a “skywheel” offering city views. Imagine this for a second: NCFC game ends, post game fireworks start over stadium downtown, Ferris wheel riders get ultimate DT fireworks show!

  56. Another Forbes list…top travel destinations!

    I love how Raleigh keeps ahead of the curve!

    Very “unique” indeed ?

  57. How do people feel about maybe mimicking some of what make Balboa Park in San Diego unique with Dix Park?

  58. I’m not that familiar with Balboa Park, but from what I can gather I assume you mean the “cultural” aspects. I think that’s what the NCMA Art Park is intended to be. There’s even a chance the NC Museum of History will move out there as well. Blue Ridge Road could end up being a “cultural district” in 30 years.

  59. Raleigh River Walk… I think we need to move forward with this idea that has been around for years. We have the foundation for it.. and it would be a huge game changer to downtown. I love the water feature in downtown Durham.. absolutely love it. I hope that we plan to do something similar to San Antonio or even something like Durham has.

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