Stats From The State of Downtown Raleigh 2017, Tourism and Retail

Our final “visit” to the 2017 State of Downtown Raleigh report focuses on visitors and retail. Jump back to this tag to review some of the other things discussed from this year’s report.

The above figure shows the top attractions in downtown Raleigh. For years, the NC Museum of Natural Sciences (NCMNS) has been at the top of the pack. It doesn’t hurt to have a state-wide draw, putting it in the top visited sites in the entire state.

Tourism in general depends on how you look at things. Since Fayetteville Street opened, 2007, the numbers have gone up by 36%. There seems to be a peak in 2012 with things leveling off more recently.

With the Nature Research Center opening as part of the NCMNS in 2012, that could explain the bump in that year. It may have “cooled off” after opening leading to the decline. In recent years, there hasn’t been any major openings or attractions to really ramp up visitors, ones that count the crowds anyway.

With events growing more and more, and numbers not reported in this figure, that, as well as other factors, may be at play here.

On the retail front, the report states a 28% increase in shops since 2010, most being independently owned.

At 96% local, you won’t see me complaining about a national retailer setting up to create an “anchor” for more increased traffic. I feel we have plenty of room for something bigger to come in and really inject more retail spending in downtown.

There isn’t anything too exciting with these figures but that could change once we hit that magic threshold that enables the big box stores to seriously consider downtown Raleigh.

Similar Posts:


Comments are disabled here. That's because we're all hanging out on the DTRaleigh Community, an online forum for passionate fans of the Oak City.


  1. It’s interesting to me that DT tourism has leveled off since 2012 and I curious to see if acceleration in tourism/visits occurs after some of the significant projects like Dillon, Union Station, Morgan St. Food Hall and Smokey Hollow get delivered. 2018 might shape up to be a banner year for DT.

  2. @John532 – the only thing is… those are buildings and retail/restaurant. Can’t imagine that will bring big waves of new tourism. What Raleigh needs is actual new tourist destinations. The Nature Research Center opened 5 years ago, now. Dix Park certainly could be a tourist destination, if the city actually does anything with it. Right now it’s a bunch of decrepit old buildings on lots and lots of…..grass. As a start, some new landscaping couldn’t hurt, maybe a huge community garden. But over time- but soon- the city can bulk up the amenities at Dix and actually make people who are not from here want to go there! My biggest idea would be a giant ferris wheel, imagine the views! I also think turning some of those old buildings into artist studio space/galleries would be interesting, and would really lean into that “arts capital of the South” title that the mayor really wants us to have (but isn’t doing much to obtain).

    As for other tourist destinations in downtown, proper? I always thought it’d be sweet if we had indoor botanical gardens, maybe on the top floor of a new building (sell the giant lots next to the history museum). End of the day, we need new tourist destinations- the new buildings aren’t going to bring anyone else who wasn’t already coming here.

  3. I just got back from a show at Red Rocks amphitheatre outside of Denver (umphrey’s McGee \mm/ ) and that was an absolutely incredible experience which I will gladly return to Denver to experience again. My pipe dream for Raleigh would be to move red hat amphitheatre to the natural bowl in the south corner of the giant field at dix park with sunflower thickets along the perimeter and total immersion in nature while watching a national touring act. Would it be logistically challenging and expensive? Yes, but certainly less so than carving a venue into the side of a rock mountain. And it would be a unique experience when compared to other venues across a vast area.

    Imagine the light show shining through the giant oaks that line the existing road there. This would draw people to Raleigh, and it would be music loving people. People already travel to come see shows at red hat, which is a miserably designed venue in my and many of my cohort’s opinion.

    No offense to my birthplace, but as far as a ferris wheel goes, the views of the Piedmont nc aren’t iconic or travel worthy imo and would be pretty gimicky.

    I am on a work group for Dix park planning so you know my agenda there.

  4. I think the Morgan Street Food Hall, if done right, will certainly generate tourism, albeit, largely from local people. I imagine a lot of suburban Philadelphians go downtown just to visit Reading Terminal Market. Otherwise, I love the idea of moving the amphitheater to Dix Park. I never thought the current location was the best use of that space.

    As far as the history museum lot, the museum is definitely going to redevelop it at some point, but they need to figure out their long-term plans first (either expand the current building, build an annex on part of that lot, or move the museum out to Blue Ridge Rd next to the Art Museum). Then a fundraising drive will have to happen, so it might be a while before that parking lot disappears.

  5. The Hilton Garden Inn / Homewood Suites Hotel is on the Planning Commission Agenda for this Tuesday July 11th .

  6. I just hosted an international gathering in April. The gardens and garden tours at the gov. Mansion were poorly conducted. Haywood hall was great, but they need more more tour guides. 40 per tour is not acceptable. I really wanted to highlight RTP. I could not get a response from anyone there.. We need videos and welcomes and tours of the highlights of the park.

    The Trolley tour was good. But..,We have great history. We need to bundle it into a more marketable story.
    Durham does better and we are older and the Capital.

    Also, we need meeting hotels with exhibition space-ask NC medical society why we have to meet in Virginia and SC?
    Groups are begging for exhibit space and we don’t have it.

    We don’t need to create a tourist attraction. We need to bundle and market what we have.

  7. I so agree Uncle Jesse ! The Hilton Garden Inn / Homewood Suites Hotel plans shows 14 stories , 154 ft. tall @ the corner of Davie / Dawson St.

  8. Any chance the Hilton garden inn / homewood suites goes back to the original glass design? The new design is terrible and looks exactly like the residence inn.

  9. I’ll probably get slammed for this, but I’ve always wondered why people in the Triangle have to go to Charlotte or Richmond to ride amusement park rides? We’ve got the fair for a week, but I wish we had a SMALL park (maybe occupying a small corner of Dix–nothing on the scale of most theme parks) with just a few games and rides…pay-per-ride ferris wheel, carousel, old-school wooden coaster, food trucks, etc. I mean, yeah it’s cheesy, but it would bring people to DT. If I lived within an hour of Raleigh, I’d take my family to DTR for a Saturday afternoon to ride a few rides and head over to Marbles…that’s local tourism. Anyone here think that could work?

  10. I think that could and can Work, Will. You are not the only one that thinks that Raleigh can use a few more attractions. I’m always hearing, Raleigh has attractions, ” Where “???. SO you got Muesuems and art galleries Fine, But what else ?? The State fair, OK. AND ??. Carolina Huricanes Events, Sure. I see on this site so many things folks chat about But Never Becomes a Reality, What is wrong with having a Sports Arena Downtown ? I had visited the Nascar Museum in charlotte last week and it was awesome, I had wish it was in Downtown Raleigh, I bet folks would love to go and drive to Downtown to visit. You not only have to think BIG But do Big if You want those….Tourist to come to Downtown Raleigh. College Sports is not enough, it just not enough. Some would say we do not and can not support or find a spot capable to hold such a large venue like a Arena Downtown, You can, You just have to make that investment in such a Arena. Now I may get Beat up for this, BUT..I see No reason that Raleigh can hold a National Team, You got the Carolina Hurricanes so Why not another National Team. Why Drive Two Hours to see the Panthers or the Checkers game Where You can have that here in Raleigh. Wouldn’t a NBA team be Awesome in Raleigh, or MLB Just Outside of Raleigh, if You want to drive, it would be 10 or 20 minutes versus Two Hours to Charlotte. I often Why Raleigh is so Slow to Progress itself as a City, not saying anything Negative just that Downtown gets bits and pieces of developing downtown projects. Union Station and the Dillon Tower is a start, I’m sure that Pretty Soon You will have a Developer come in and want to build a 40 story tower that will skyrocket Raleigh into a wonderful city that it is Now.

  11. William, maybe we should contact the developer and encourage them to go back to the glass design, the new design is just ugly and will get worse looking over time.

    Maybe a bunch of us go to the meeting and beg them to go more modern.

  12. There are certain things that are really required for a good tourist mix… (1) Walkability. D.C. Is great cause you can walk from one attraction to the next and find food in between those walks. (2) Transportation options. For those things that aren’t close by, the metro or bus system is great and runs frequently. (3) Parks. Very important a city has multiple parks for enjoyment and freedom. Yoga in the park and movies in the park.. concerts in the park. Important. (4) Historical Locations. (5) MultiCultural options. People,want to see more than just their culture. (6) Garden or 2. (7) Tobacco Road History. Make it for the 4 universities of the Tobacco Road and make it an interactive museum. (8) Maybe a Soccer Sports World where the history of Soccer in NC is discussed as well as an interactive Soccer demonstration? (9) something that commemorates the Military in NC and finally (10) 360 room Intercontinental Hotel & 300 room Sofitel or Independent Luxury Brand Hotel with attached 80,00 sq ft conference center. I believe, with these elements, Raleigh will see an influx in visitors. But just my thoughts

  13. Thank you Dwight. Agree with you Maverick I do…
    To all, I am curious, did anyone stop by the City market that Wednesday and give input on ideas for the new Raleigh city hall?

  14. Interesting, I would have to stop By City market and have a look, I remember seeing a rendering of the 17 story Lightner building that was suppose to be next to city hall But that never came to be. Also, the building height restrictions on a high rise, example, the Hilton Garden Inn that is to be built on Davie and Martin streets, 14 shouldn’t be the limit but then if there is a High demand and I’m sure there is then Build at least 25 stories tall. But a 14 story hotel in not bad, as I last stated, You need a Developer to build a high end Hotel tower that will stand at least 30 stories tall and 500 rooms in Downtown. For those tourist that come to Raleigh, You really need Good Public Transit, Congrats on the rebuilding of Moore Square station downtown, it is really beautiful, Now focus on Extending ALL bus services to late night. At least to 1:00am Seven days a week, Once Union Station is Built and running the city is really going to need All of GO Raleigh and GO triangle buses to Operate Seven days a week. every 20 minutes a Go Raleigh bus should be going to each bus stop. And Please build Bus Shelters, too many times I see folks standing by the bus stop sign waiting for the bus in the pouring rain and even snow waiting for the bus. Like in DC or NYC they have bus shelters w/maps showing the route the buses go each day. If you have the Money to revamp moore square station you can at least spend the money to build bus shelters throughout the city. It is what you do if you want those Tourists and their $$$$.

  15. I like Will’s idea for a mini amusement park with porous boundaries, possibly in the meadow connecting Pullen to Dix? The wooden roller coaster could be a rebuilt version of the one at Bloomsbury Park… Raleigh’s old amusement park.

    I also imagine extending the Pullen train into the new park and making it sort of an epic adventure (and an easy way to get around the large park).

    Two other thoughts:

    An EcoPRT system at NCSU would be quite a curiosity for visitors to the city.

    Bringing back the Village Subway seems like a no-brainer. Add a northern entrance, update it for the modern fire codes, there you go.

  16. I couldn’t be any less excited about the 150′ Hilton Garden Inn. That is a prime, prime spot and I hate to see it wasted on a mid-rise. Also, I like the idea of Dix park but a 300 acre Dix park makes no sense to me at all. If this piece of property were up for sale it would no doubt be the most expensive 300 acres available in the state. There is no way there are enough people who will use that park to justify all 300 acres being used for a park. Make it a 100/150 acre park (still huge, right by downtown) and use the other 150/200 acres on something that can generate a lot of tourism or tax profit. I’ve always said Raleigh needs an aquarium. A nice one too. Unlike the one in Greensboro.

  17. Whats the deal with downtown only getting these really generic suburban hotels? Hilton garden inn, residence inn, proposed courtyard marriot etc. All on prime lots. Even an Aloft downtown would be nice. Durham has one. Greensboro is getting one soon. Not to mention Charlotte and its abundance of higher end hotels. Greensboro sounds like will even get a Westin before us. And our Westin will be in Crabtree! Just doesnt make sense. Has anyone else been to Norfolk lately and saw their new Hilton? We should be getting something like that instead of the garden inn.

  18. Depends on how you value and define park land. Central Park is 842 acres and includes a concert venue and zoo. I disagree that dix should be any smaller; rather, the 300 acres need to be utilized to maximize potential. There’s a million options for Dix park and it could easily get screwed up, especially if part of the park was to try to be commercialized/urbanized as if it’s well connected to the city grid — it’s not.

    Surprised no one really jumped on my earlier comment of moving the amphitheater to Dix. Does anyone know any details or can provide a link to long term plan for the amphitheater? I’ve heard that it was built with temporary construction methods, evidenced by the terrible rattle the whole pavilion projects when heavy bass hits. Also, the 5 year sponsorship agreement between Red Hat and the city was signed in 2012… Has it been renewed?

    Just look at this picture from central park:

    IMO that is what Raleigh needs, and that’s how Dix can stand out and be a destination from April to Oct. There would still be room for a ferris wheel, or fountain, or aquarium, or whatever else, as it is 300 acres. :)

  19. @ Evan , I agree with you on having the amphitheater in Dix Park . High Point is building a downtown stadium for 5,000 baseball fans & 7,500 concert fans. The Atlantic League will be their minor league team . 70 + minor league home games , NCSU / UNC , ECU , Duke baseball games, + concerts , would bring a lot
    of people to Raleigh !

  20. Evan, I’m not discounting Dix Park. I’m just discounting the need for it to use the entire 300 acres. If we can incorporate a stadium, amphitheatre, aquarium etc into the park then I would jump on board. Just don’t think its going to attract enough people, as simply a park, to justify using all 300 acres. Let’s also not forget the 5600 acre park we have 8 miles away from Dix. And the 72 acre Pullen Park right across the street. Without doing the research, does anyone else know of any other cities roughly the size of Raleigh that has a 300 acre park right beside downtown?

    The need for central park in NYC is completely different than a Raleigh park. That’s the only major outdoor recreational space for the millions of people who live and work in Manhattan. Comparing the 2 is apples to oranges.

  21. I agree central park and dix park are apples and oranges. However, the population of NYC was 1m when they set aside 800 acres for park land, and that was before they could build vertical and achieve ultra density, so you know that land was valuable in development terms. Now central park receives 25m visitors a year. They had Frederick Law Olmsted and we have Michael Van Valkenburgh – I think it’s a beautiful opportunity for the future of the city.

    I think it boils down to how you value park land within a city. To me it is invaluable, because spending time in nature positively affects mood, cortisol levels, and even immune system strength. Keep the park huge and build more dense around it. Move the amphitheatre to dix and for the lord’s sake don’t fix chairs into concrete this time.

  22. I know that Red Hat is a temporary holding place for future convention center expansion but I feel that it has become an important attraction downtown and that it would be a mistake to move it to Dix. If the convention center expands west we lose 2 downtown attractions: Red Hat and the shimmer wall. It looks like expansion could occur north or south without disrupting the amphitheater. What if, instead, we hired an amazing architect to design a permanent amphitheater structure at Red Hat that then becomes an even more important landmark. As it is, it is so easy to walk to and from Red Hat from downtown restaurants and bars and it is an integral part of the bluegrass festival and Hopscotch. Those of us who live downtown love walking to a nearby restaurant, catching a concert at Red Hat and then hitting a bar afterward. As it exists now and for the near future Dix will be accessed by driving or maybe biking and is not an easy walk to downtown. Just check out the Sunday concert series. It’s attracting very few people. In the long run, yes, there could be some performance space in the natural bowl at Dix but for now Red Hat is one of downtown Raleigh’s few exciting tourist destinations and landmarks.

  23. Glen – truth about walkability.

    If the venue was redesigned and rebuilt in current location that could be great. I have many friends and acquaintances that are high consumers of music, i.e. they see 10-40 big concerts a year around the country – and none of them are fans of Red Hat. It’s flat, full of concrete, heat island, terrible lawn section, lame backdrop etc. etc. It also only holds 5,500, which can be good or bad depending on what you’re in to. So rebuilding in my mind would have to be strategic.

    I think the bowl has more potential to be a landmark than current site, and bars/restaurants would come – I know trophy brewing owns multiple buildings on Maywood ave. for future restaurant. Either moving it or rebuilding it would be a vast improvement IMO.

    Of course Sunday concerts in Dix are poorly attended – the acts are local and it’s brand new this year with limited marketing.

  24. @Evan
    Walnut Creek, the NCMA and Koka Booth are all excellent outdoor veunues that are drivable and have fantastic music lineups. My point about Red Hat is that it represents a commitment by the City to have a music venue as a key component of our central downtown. Have you attended the Bluegrass Festival? We may not keep it forever but the presence of Red Hat in that location is key to its success. Hopscotch is using it more in its festival as well. It has also been successful as a part of the July 4th celebration downtown as well as other downtown events. It is not perfect because it is temporary. I’m all for finding a more perfect venue but it would be hard to find one with a better location. Additionally, I think the combination of Red Hat and the shimmer wall have become iconic for downtown Raleigh. Often if a newsperson on CNN or other networks are interviewed, that’s the background. I just hate to lose those aspects of Red Hat to a convention center addition which is a great thing but will most likely be another big concrete wall exterior thus losing the “cooler” image and the importance of music to the city that Red Hat projects.

  25. I wonder if any of you people ever get out of the house?? Or read the plans on the City of Raleigh’s website for future development?

  26. I too would like to retain RedHat in DT proper so that it remains a viable resource to our established music festivals & walkable to DT residents and visitors. The sad truth is that there won’t be much investment in the current facility to improve it as long as the site remains a future expansion of the convention center. Couple this with the likely scenario that the convention center won’t expand until DT becomes much more engaging and has the capacity to host much larger conventions and it’s easy to image RedHat getting the boot when there won’t be anywhere reasonable for it to go. If we were to relocate it in the very core of the city, I can argue that it needs to happen sooner rather than later, and not motivated by the whims of the convention center.
    It would seem to me that the convention center needs to be sold on the idea that the amphitheater itself is a differentiator and resource that can actually attract conventions.

  27. I haven’t attended the bluegrass festival, but my band played on the red hat stage, albeit for rock n roll marathon which the venue was poorly attended, even for the headliner St. Lucia. I’ve seen shows at ncma, walnut creek, and koka booth, and must lament that koka booth is ruined by Cary sound ordinances. Ncma is a small, boutique venue, and Walnut Creek holds 20k. The main point is that 1) red hat sucks. Ask die hard music fans. 2) our “downtown proper” is expanding, mostly to the south and east. 3) Dix park is going to be a major attraction for Raleigh. If you don’t believe me, ask COR whom paid 50m+ for it and hired a renown architect.

    If it were moved tomorrow, I agree that it would not be a good move. I’m talking long term vision here. Big picture. Remember the American Roots music fest at Walnut Creek in 2015? Imagine that, downtown… In a beautiful venue

    But, I see your points. I just have a different opinion.

  28. @Arthur – lovely contribution to the ongoing discussion. Care to elaborate, or are you asking serious questions?

    I will have to agree with John that I like the current RedHat location and would hate to see it go to Dix – UNLESS some better public transportation becomes available from downtown proper STRAIGHT to Dix. A tram would be nice! But honestly, I wish they’d consider beefing up the amphitheater site and develop around it. So many surface lots surrounding RedHat that can be built up, creating even more of an entertainment district. I also hope one day the police station is moved so that whole place can be redeveloped.

  29. I’d love to see a very creative way to massage an amphitheater onto the wedge two blocks south of the current site. It could be something that go over that McDowell St “bend” using that drop in elevation, maybe even have stadium seats rise up over the tracks.

    I always think atypical uses like this are perfect for awkward parcels that may take way too long to develop naturally.

  30. @ Jake , The last info. that I have heard about the police station is that the city will have a separate location somewhere that will combined a police / fire headquarters site ! This location will be away from The Central City Complex Site ! Also I have read that some councilors have expressed interests in trying to have the police headquarters also located in the new future city complex ! So both ways has been discussed !

  31. I’ll preface this by saying I love this discussion and don’t want to overstate my views, so please tell me to be quiet if so.

    An amphitheater is great use of that triangular parcel you mention Leo but I have a few problems with it.

    1) size – It would immediately be limited in scope with little room for expansion. It would likely be same capacity or smaller than current amph.
    2) road noise/train noise – For me, attending concerts and playing shows in front of a crowd is at times a spiritual experience. I attend music festivals from Shakori Hills to Lock’n in Virginia (30k ppl) and concerts all over, most recently at Red Rocks amphitheater in Denver. The best shows for me are always blended with nature. Being wedged between Saunders and RR tracks, there would be a lot of ‘unnatural’ noise competing with the show, distracting from that connective experience that so easily happens with music, especially in beautiful, awe-inspiring places.
    3) view from lawn/stands – Similar to above, I wouldn’t want cars zipping across Western blvd. to be the backdrop for a band I really want to experience. Trees would be better.

    This all relates back to the city brand discussion as well – the City of Oaks or City in a Park identity that some folks through around – well, I think it’s more important for the amphitheater to share in that identity than for it to be walkable to restaurants or next to a shimmer wall. The Amphitheater of Oaks is my dream, and I would love to see it happen.

    View from current site:,-78.6421103,24a,35y,306.19h,79.15t/data=!3m1!1e3

    View from triangular parcel to the S.:,-78.6433017,25a,35y,204.56h,79.15t/data=!3m1!1e3

    View from Dix Park:,-78.6621732,25a,35y,134.06h,78.81t/data=!3m1!1e3

  32. Some great points, Evan. It starts with the size venue we need there I guess. I’m guessing that capacity is the driving factor. (just a guess since I’m not in the industry) Red Hat feels to fill a hole that little, any?, other venues can fill outside of a non permanent setup on a big field.

    Now, I’m usually complaining of other people talking during shows so I agree additional distractions would be annoying.

    With that said, I feel a non permanent setup on Dix, a summer music series, would easily replace the current red hat for awhile until a new permanent home is found.

  33. I hope that our needs for capacity at a DT amph. only grow over the next 10 years, and 5,500 is not huge, but I believe you’re right that it’s a size not found elsewhere in the Triangle.

    Would be cool to set up a non permanent stage/lighting truss on Dix as an experiment, and the beauty is no seating would be necessary IMO except an exclusive VIP section. That field is perfect for a giant general admission lawn where everyone could find a good view. I can see it now..thousands of people lounging on blankets and in lawn chairs as the sun sets on the Raleigh skyline directly to the left when looking at the stage.

  34. OK I admit you wouldn’t be able to see the skyline from right there, but you can from nearby. :)

  35. The state will be leasing a huge part of Dix for 10-25 years. Many of these facilities on site are getting worse by the year and some of these lease back sites are the best locations on the grounds for all these great ideas being suggested.

    I hope in the planning process the future considerations for the possible demolition and removal of the old facilities is baked into the long term plan and we don’t get to far ahead of ourselves.

    Maybe it will be done in phases as lease backs expire. I walk here and fly drones often and you really get an appreciation for the potential from above towards the city.

    Unfortunately, Almost 40 percent of the 308 acres is lease back land so full potential won’t be realized for 25 years. Should have gotten the whole park up front.

    Also, I remember not too long ago when we had no amputheather, that really sucked! Happy just to have one.

  36. Sometimes I feel like I’m the only person who thinks it would be a cool idea to put the Red Hat Amphitheater on TOP of the convention center..

  37. Al, the word in the back alleys is that the State is looking to move everyone off Dix in one full swoop fairly quickly. I know City and State folks who are surmising the same thing based on the goings on in their various offices (granted I am not in the decision room on any of this).

Comments are closed.