Checking In on the Raleigh Convention Center

Should we start calling the southern end of downtown “The Convention District” or maybe “The Entertainment District”? Those are probably the most boring names I could think of but it seems the Raleigh Convention Center is poised to grow it’s influence on downtown this decade. This month, the Raleigh City Council approved agreements with a developer to start work on a 550-room convention hotel nearby. This would support a future convention center expansion which is also working it’s way through the planning process.

Here’s the high-level plan as of today:

  • Extend Fayetteville Street south, between Lenoir and South Streets
  • Build a 550-room Omni Hotel between Fayetteville and Salisbury Streets
  • Build more convention space on the block where the current Red Hat Amphitheater is located
  • Build a new amphitheater on the block to the south of the current location

And of course, here are some high-level renderings.

Next, is my quick attempt to map all this activity together. Thank god design isn’t my day job. The map below does start to show that we have a district being put together and perhaps some branding is needed for this part of downtown. More on that later in this post.

The latest timelines might look like the following:

  • New Red Hat Amphitheater having shows in 2026
  • Omni Hotel open for stays in 2027
  • Larger conventions being held in the larger facility in 2028

All this development takes place on top of the earlier mentioned amphitheater that is in use today as well as surface parking. You should know that I’m a big fan of that tactic. My guess is that, similar to the underground parking that was built below the Marriott Hotel to support the convention center, additional below-ground parking will be added underneath the Omni. The renderings suggest some above-ground parking levels here so I hope they work to hide it as best as they can.

Convention District?

Of course, I’ll be following these projects and keep the updates rolling over the next few years. Today, what I wanted to post is the idea of branding this area as some kind of convention district. I think this could be helpful as a way to show people that this is where events and conventions take place, not where you go to really get a taste of Raleigh. I’m borrowing this from the recent Fayetteville Street study that was released back in Feb 2024 and I thought this graphic was pretty impactful.

If you think about it, the area around the convention center, ever since it first opened, hasn’t had that many local businesses setting up shop compared to the northern end of Fayetteville Street. As the image shows, a true “Raleigh Local” corridor goes east/west along Martin and Hargett from Moore Square to Nash Square and into the Warehouse District. Fayetteville Street never became that “main street” where you get some local flavor on every block going from end-to-end. It’s actually a street with multiple personalities.

I think you have a better chance of seeing local flavor along Hargett and Martin, a corridor that could be highlighted and separated from the now growing convention district. Hargett and Martin is where I would want to take visitors. Sure, they can stay in the new Omni but they’ll have to venture a few blocks out to see what Raleigh is all about.

The idea of a larger convention center and amphitheater that draws people in from miles away is counter to any kind of localism. You’ll get a large influx of visitors that drive all kinds of economics but they eventually go home and the area is basically dead. The locals, like me, aren’t interested in filling the gaps between events here when you have such great places along Martin and Hargett. This is where the momentum is and should be fostered.

I’m not trying to be salty and I’m certainly not against the convention center’s expansion. Locals get to enjoy the new restaurants, shops, and hotels that the convention business creates. The performing arts center, which is in this district as well, also plays a similar role.

How this is done, I’m not sure but I do think it starts with getting people to think about districts rather than thinking that Fayetteville Street is the center of downtown Raleigh.

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