Posts by Leo Suarez

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Pic of the Week

The Metropolitan Apartments. Novemeber 2018.

The Metropolitan apartments over in Glenwood South is nearing completion. Walking around the area, the new building has a nice mix of materials compared to similar developments. There are a few blank walls that aren’t that exciting but being near all the upcoming retail at Smokey Hollow, residents in this area will probably be thrilled with its location.

Leases are already being signed and new residents may move in at the start of 2019. Once Jones Street is open and neighbors have moved back into the Quorum Center, there will be huge reasons to celebrate here!

See more at their website. www.metropolitanraleigh.com

The Metropolitan Apartments. November 2018.

Pic of the Week

Recently installed bikeshare station at GoRaleigh Station. November 2018.

The first Raleigh bikeshare system, Citrix Cycle, is rolling out with stations being installed in multiple locations. Above, the station for GoRaleigh Station across from Moore Square is in place, minus the bicycles of course. The last update I heard is that the system should be available for use before the end of the year.

See more about the system including the full map of stations over at Citrix Cycle.

One Glenwood + Two Hillsborough + Parking Deck = Bloc 83

700 block of Hillsborough Street. October 2018.

700 block of Hillsborough Street. October 2018.

More renderings and plans are being submitted for the Heritage Properties developments along Hillsborough Street. Readers might already be familiar with the soon-to-be-completed office tower, One Glenwood, and the second tower is coming soon with Two Hillsborough. The two towers will have a plaza in between, mid-block, with retail supporting a lively sense of place.

The latest renderings show the two towers with the plaza in between.

Rendering of the Bloc 83 development.

Click for larger

The collection of towers is being called Bloc 83 according to the latest submissions. The third piece of the puzzle is a parking deck with ground-floor retail. Located on the 700 block of Hillsborough Street, the former auto shop and next-door house are slated to be removed for the new deck. The deck’s 693 spaces are most likely going to support Bloc 83. You can spy the deck in the renderings above.

The site plan looks pretty typical but with retail along both Hillsborough Street and a part of Boylan. Entrances to the deck will be on both Hillsborough and Boylan Avenue. Below is a snapshot of that site plan.

SIte plan of the Bloc 83 parking deck along the 700 block of Hillsborough Street.

Click for larger

I can’t help but roll my eyes at more parking decks especially when you consider that one has already been built behind the Origin Hotel across Morgan by the same developers. I believe between the two decks there will over 1,000 spaces provided.

However, as I look at the plans and where we’re coming from, the new office towers moves the needle just a little bit towards a more urban and transit-friendly Raleigh. The parking decks are just a bridge that helps us connect to the rest of the region.

The way retail space really surrounds the outside and inside of Bloc 83, even in the parking deck, feels hugely positive. If the landlords can land some service retail and add to downtown’s plentiful list of tasty places to eat then by all means, bring it on.

The vibe on the Community is a tad negative over another parking deck but does give more reason to support pro-transit and pro-bike orgs to keep the mobility options varied in and around downtown Raleigh. As for me, I’m seeing a future where I spend more time in this area compared to what was there and I think others may agree also.

As One Glenwood wraps up over the next few months, I expect work on the rest of Bloc 83 to take place in 2019.

Municipography: Downtown Wayfinding Kiosks

Municipography is a summary of current issues going through the Raleigh City Council and other municipal departments in the city. The point is to try to deliver any video, photos, and text associated with the discussions happening at City Hall or elsewhere. Since this is a downtown Raleigh blog, the focus is on the center of the city.

I recommend email readers click through to the website to see the embedded video.

An IKE wayfinding kiosk on display in front of Union Station.

An IKE wayfinding kiosk on display in front of Union Station.

During the October 2, 2018 city council meeting, councilors received an update on the latest downtown wayfinding plan that comes from the Downtown Raleigh Alliance. The presentation given introduces IKE, a free-standing kiosk with a touchscreen, that presents downtown retail, transit, and event info to pedestrians. The company, IKE Smart City, makes revenue off advertising with the DRA getting a cut of that revenue.

In addition to the touchscreen, a built-in camera can be used for selfies, pedestrian counting, and even public safety if the city wanted it too. A lot of features seemed optional, tailoring the IKE experience for each community as Jibran Shermohammed, Director of Development & Corporate Counsel at IKE Smart City, mentions during the presentation. Below is the video of Mr. Shermohammed as well as DRA president Kris Larson at the council meeting followed by the discussion.


If you can’t see the embedded video, click here to watch it on YouTube.

The presentation by Mr. Larson and Mr. Shermohammed is near flawless, describing the kiosks and the agreements between IKE Smart City and the DRA. Wayfinding comes back into the picture from our 2015 Downtown Raleigh Plan and the system checks all the boxes in terms of accessibility and equity.

The kiosks are also data gathering points collecting information such as pedestrian counts and usage, all anonymized and available for the city. The kiosks themselves are maintained by IKE Smart City including both the hardware and software. Any damage to the units are taken care of and each kiosk receives regular software updates.

The advertising complies with all City of Raleigh advertising policy so anything you see around town right now, like on the buses, is basically the same as you’ll see on the kiosks.

Finally, all this comes free of charge to the city. The company just needs the blessing of the council to allow them to be installed on public property. The approval to move forward with implementation, as well as a text change to our sign ordinance, was needed to make these kiosks happen.

It seems like all bases were covered here on this project yet councilors had concerns or at least perceived concerns, about the IKEs. From my viewing of the discussion, I picked up unreasonable criticism of the system as well as far-reaching efforts to derail the project.

The Council of No

Masked as defenders of the public right-of-way, a subset of the council, which I like to call “The Council of No”, were pulling extreme edge cases here as reasons to not move forward. Rather than tailor the IKEs to something that satisfies council, some councilors were against the kiosks for reasons with little or no backing at all.

NOTE: Councilors Corey Branch and Dickie Thompson were not present.

Both Councilors Kay Crowder and Stef Mendell were concerned over the brightness of the kiosks. From the meeting discussion, Travis Crane, an Assistant Planning Director, called out the acceptable brightness levels in our city’s signage ordinance. Mr. Shermohammed confirmed that the kiosks were lower, operating similar to how a smartphone dims at night or in dark rooms.

Yet, the councilors were still concerned over brightness.

Map of potential locations for the kiosks

Map of potential locations for the kiosks.

Councilor Russ Stephenson compared the kiosks as “last-century technology” and wanted to see something more mobile, like for a smartphone. While I agree with Councilor Stephenson to a degree, he may be forgetting that we are surrounded by tried and true technology all around us. Why should the city adopt the latest and greatest at a high cost?

Better yet, what disadvantage do we have if the kiosks are deployed in addition to some new mobile tech? To be against the kiosks and pitch something else is a project-killing move from my point-of-view.

Councilor Stephenson’s data privacy concerns are also unfounded. He claims that Raleighites don’t want to be tracked or have data collected about them, even if it’s anonymous. He must not be aware of the dozens of pedestrian, biking, and traffic counters that have been deployed all over the city, collecting the same information that IKE would. This is a feature that could also be turned off if the city wanted it too.

Councilor Stewart, not a member of The Council of No, asked if any other cities are worried about the IKE’s screen brightness and it’s contribution to light pollution. Mr. Shermohammed says that no cities have raised issues with this.

Councilor Cox also tried to derail and discount the work of the DRA by lofting up a suggestion about Bluetooth beacon technology. The tech itself doesn’t matter but, as a city councilor, to have allowed the DRA to go forward with the kiosk project about a year ago and now suggest something completely different isn’t helpful for anyone and is borderline disrespectful.

It was clear to the Council of No that this effort would alter our sign ordinance and possibly allow even more signs that looked like a “bright” IKE kiosk in the future. This is precedent-setting moves and the Council of No always takes the unreasonably fights against projects like this rather than taking a collaborative, compromising approach.

While certainly not the biggest issue downtown Raleigh faces, I take issue with the treatment of this project because there are so many things this helps, so many angles that are covered here and yet we have councilors that can’t move things forward because of perceived negative outcomes and a perceived future that “looks like Las Vegas” as Councilor Crowder states.

It’s either close-minded thinking or some kind of inferiority complex at play here when smart people come forward and pitch new and exciting things to our city. The Council of No has been like this on a variety of topics over the past year and I fear it impacts when really creative efforts want to come forward. (or squashes them early on cause who wants to deal with that, right?)

In the end, the Council of No asked city staff to create a high-level list of what other cities are doing in terms of wayfinding, something the DRA has already done and chosen a solution for. This belittles their work, in my opinion, and am really questioning our councils commitment to downtown Raleigh.

Come chat about council’s support of downtown Raleigh on the Community.

Plans Submitted for 9-Story Hotel Overlooking Nash Square

Corner of Martin and Dawson Streets. October 2018.

Plans popped up on the city’s website for a nine-story building that will be used for a hotel with ground-floor restaurant space. It’s planned for the southeast corner of Dawson and Martin Streets giving it a nice location across the street from Nash Square.

The development would replace a variety of the one and two-story buildings and surface parking on this corner. In addition to the photos in this post, here are the parcels identified to be removed.

Properties involved in the development mapped. October 2018.

The site plan submitted shows 190 rooms and 137 parking spaces with lobby and restaurant space on the ground floor. A driveway for pulling into the hotel would be on Martin Street as well as the dropoff zone being on Martin. That seems more desirable compared to a busier Dawson Street.

Below is a screenshot of one of the preliminary site plans.

Preliminary site plans for a hotel across from Nash Square on Martin Street.

When looking at the developer, the Raymond Group, and their previous projects, we typically see hotels built under national brands. That’s what I’m expecting here until more information comes out.

Hopefully, this developer can deliver as there are quite a few other hotels that seem to have been delayed in downtown.

Pic of the Week

RUSbus cross section

More of a rendering or cross-section this week. As I was looking through the RUSbus grant application, I noticed this diagram of how the mixed-use project could look like. Now this isn’t set in stone by any means but I take it as what the planners have in mind including market-rate and affordable housing, hotel, office, and retail space. Being a transit hub as well, this may be the most mixed-use project in downtown Raleigh.

See more at rusbusnc.com.

Plans for Smokey Hollow Phase 2 Bring More Residential and Office to Glenwood South

Rendering of Smokey Hollow Phase 2

Rendering of Smokey Hollow Phase 2. Click for larger.

While the community actively watches the first phase of Smokey Hollow rise out of the ground along Peace Street, plans for more buildings have been submitted. Phase 2 will contain additional buildings along West and Harrington Streets with residential and office components.

The highlights:

  • 280 Residential units
  • 225,000 sq. ft. of office space
  • 40,000 sq. ft. of ground floor retail

The rendering above shows the key pieces of the second phase of the three-phase project for the area. With phase 1 (currently under construction) delivering the anchor, a Publix grocery store, phase 2 brings more community and placemaking around it with an office tower, more retail spaces, and overall just a more interesting place to be.

It looks like West Street will become a residential street with the addition of a five-story building. The new building will stretch from the West at North tower all the way to the new Johnson Street intersection. Retail spaces will be mixed along West with even more along a new private drive that goes through the development.

The “intersection” of Tucker and West will have a private drive that cuts through to Harrington as well as pedestrian-only plaza towards Johnson. Here, more retail and outdoor spaces will be made to create a sense of place. The renderings below will help to visualize the concept.

Rendering of Smokey Hollow Phase 2

Rendering of Smokey Hollow Phase 2, West Street at Tucker St. Click for larger.

Rendering of Smokey Hollow Phase 2

Rendering of Smokey Hollow Phase 2, Retail along the “interior”. Click for larger.

Rendering of Smokey Hollow Phase 2

Rendering of Smokey Hollow Phase 2, Retail along the “interior”. Click for larger.

All of this should drastically improve the sidewalk experience in the area. West and Harrington will become two key urban streets, something we’ve discussed before, and Smokey Hollow basically becomes the northern gateway to downtown Raleigh. In the future, as a BRT line goes through this area, the flow of people through it will become more obvious.

Rendering of Smokey Hollow Phase 2

Rendering of Smokey Hollow Phase 2. Click for larger.

Tightening the fabric between Smokey Hollow and the rest of Glenwood South would really make the area lively and I’m hoping that the office tower does very well. More workers could really bring more streetlife to the daytime hours here and give Glenwood South that 24-7 feel. Mix in the future Devereux Meadow park north of Peace and the area should really take off!

More to come on this one for sure!