Posts by Leo Suarez

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Browsing Through The Latest Civic Campus Master Plan

The city has posted the latest version of the master plan for the downtown civic campus. This would involve a significant update to the municipal buildings to the north of Nash Square. Over time, it’s possible that the existing buildings will all be demolished and up to 20-story towers for city workers will be built on this block.

Jump into the plan (pdf doc) here on the city’s website.

The Avery C. Upchurch block, or municipal block as I’m calling it, consists of the former Raleigh Police Headquarters building, the Raleigh municipal building (RMB) currently in use, and a 3-story parking deck. The police HQ is currently vacant and we’ve outgrown the RMB to the point where extensive maintenance is needed in the next few years.

From the executive summary in the master plan:

The future Raleigh Civic Campus will be a mixed-use, walkable destination consisting of a New City Hall with public-facing government functions, expanded municipal departmental space, and pedestrian-connected public spaces. Other land uses may be arranged around the campus, including urban retail, commercial office, housing, and a combination of below-grade and structured parking. The total potential of the Civic Campus is approximately 2.2 million gross square feet, excluding underground parking and services. The full build-out of the campus is dependent upon the execution of several capital projects over three phases and employing a suite of delivery methods, including City-owned and managed development, private capital-led development, and potentially a collaborative public-private partnership.

The full implementation of the campus will take place over 3 phases, generally broken down into these projects:

  • Phase 1 – The East Building: Demolish the Police HQ and build a 20-story office tower for approximately 1,400 staff, public-facing functions, and Council Chambers, as well as potential ground floor retail.
  • Phase 2 – The West Building: Demolish the RMB and tentatively plan for an up to 20-story office tower, the twin to the East Building. A public plaza between the two towers will tie the two sites together.
  • Phase 3 – Mixed-Use Development: Demolish the municipal parking deck and allow for up to 20-story private development.

The additional space on this campus will be for current workers who are spread across downtown as well as new hires in the future. The civic campus aims to consolidate offices and bring together departments as a way to make the campus more secure and more customer-friendly in a cost-conscious manner.

The master plan lays out the costs of doing nothing and just maintaining buildings and the difference is in the tens of millions of dollars. See page 18 for more details.

As each department continues to grow, accommodation of the City’s expanding workforce in an organized and fiscally responsible manner will become increasingly difficult. City staff has conservatively estimated the need to invest more than $245 Million (in today’s dollars) over the next 30 years just to maintain the status quo.

The master plan really focuses on delivering the needs of the city for the next 30-40 years between these two towers, the East Building, and West Building. (Phases 1 and 2) Mixed-use development through collaboration with a private developer for phase 3 isn’t quite set in stone, which makes sense. It’s a good opportunity to provide something that’s needed on the northern end of the block such as housing or hospitality but those needs haven’t been identified just yet.

There’s plenty of opportunities to build as the entire block is zoned DX-20-SH, or downtown mixed-use with a 20-story height limit, shopfront design. This is significantly mroe dense than what we have today.

With a much larger presence here on the municipal block, the civic campus becomes a destination and should help connect downtown districts. This is touched on more in the master plan where the design team has thought about connecting it along the east-west streets of Morgan and Hargett from the Warehouse District to Fayetteville Street. Nash Square should not feel isolated from the campus but rather become an extension.

This makes pedestrians number one along Hargett Street and the public plaza must emphasize that. Taking cues from the 2015 Downtown Plan, this vision supports Hargett Street having an attractive and livelier streetscape.

The master plan continues with details about a central gathering space and plaza within the site and possible uses for the mixed-use portion on the northern half. The examples from other cities are helpful in visualizing what is possible so I encourage readers to check it out.

I’m very happy with what’s in this master plan and feel it’s got all the right elements put together for this area. In my opinion, some points really need to be hammered home once the city gets into the details. I would want to really emphasize the need to make the municipal buildings along Hargett welcoming and engaged with the sidewalk rather than being stale, public buildings.

The SECU tower is a good example of how a modern tower can engage the sidewalk, provide outdoor spaces for gathering and mix it with retail. (if they had any so I have to pretend) The county’s justice center seems to have missed the mark with their monolithic presence along Martin Street and their foreboding main entrance along Salisbury. (I love the art deco look from afar though)

I’d love to see Hargett Street get the “City Plaza” treatment. Between the East and West buildings and Nash Square, let’s create an even street separated with bollards (trees?) where pedestrians and vehicles are on an equal plane. Transparency through the ground-floor of these sites all the way to Nash Square might just give you that park-like feeling even if you’re a block away.

Retail spaces along Hargett should be plentiful since there is only space on one side. I’d like to see the city take a less traditional approach to it also. For example, businesses may not be clamoring for space here right away so as spaces are empty, pop-up concepts should be welcomed. That approach can help new businesses kickstart themselves and down the road, move on to a more established home nearby or elsewhere in Raleigh.

With phase 3 being so far out, it’s probably best to comment on that piece down the road. This project will be fun to watch and I’m hoping for something that Raleigh can be proud of.

Pic of the Week

Montford Hall

The newest owners of the 1850s mansion in Boylan Heights are making moves to turn it into a boutique hotel. Located at the edge of the neighborhood at Boylan and Mountford Avenue, the hotel is in a great location and offers a unique stay.

The owners are currently going through the rezoning process and if that goes as planned, renovation work will take place after that. What a great way to save some of Raleigh’s historic houses on the edge of downtown. I’m excited to see it finished one day.

Follow the progress and see some great photos of the interior on their Instagram page.

11 Years Later From the Boylan Avenue Bridge

View of the Raleigh Skyline in September 2007 and September 2018.

Click for larger

It’s starting to get fun when you build a catalog of photos over a long time.

The two photos above are from the Boylan Avenue Bridge with one photo taken in September 2007 and another September 2018. Over 11 years, things have filled in just a bit.

In the foreground, Raleigh Union Station has really made the Boylan Wye look cleaner with a lot of that overgrowth being pulled out. With such an odd space to develop, I’m hoping for the day that new streets and buildings can just be built on top of all these railroads tracks to create new downtown spaces.

The Dillon is front and center no doubt when seen from the Boylan Avenue bridge. Around it, Citrix really presents a new view of the warehouse district from the bridge.

In the distance, the southern end of Fayetteville Street is mostly the same as the Marriott Hotel, while still under construction, was topped off in 2007. One exception might be the Residence Inn and the Justice Center is there but can be easily missed.

It’s fun to look but a well-formed skyline isn’t at the top of my list, sidewalk experiences are my numero uno, but it’s fun to take a look at how our downtown core is changing in its built form. Enjoy the photos and come chat about it on our community.

Lime Scooters Deploy in Raleigh

Lime scooters in front of the Raleigh Convention Center

A second dockless scooter company is now operating in Raleigh. Lime has brought their electric scooters to the area and just like Bird have them concentrated in the downtown area.

Lime technically gets the award for the first dockless provider in Raleigh with the launch of their bikes around the NC State area. You might occasionally see them downtown but not reliably from my experience. That’s kind of by design since they were launched in a partnership with the university and not the city.

This makes two scooter companies operating in the area which expands the overall number of vehicles, providing more choice to the end user. As of this writing, the city is drafting dockless scooter regulations so the drama over this new form of transportation may not be over.

DTRaleigh Blog Has New Look and Possible Super Powers

Welcome to the newest version of the blog!

By my count, this would be the fourth major overhaul (and cleanup) of this site. Yes, I’m still running on WordPress but I’ve retired the custom theme that I have been using since 2012. With a strong affinity for web development, I wanted to run my own theme on this blog but just because you can do something doesn’t necessarily mean that you should. With that, I’m going with this cleaner, simpler look that’s modern under-the-covers.

The blog will always be about trying to tell stories with photos and text and I think this new look still captures that. As expected, the blog works on all devices so you can read and search the site wherever you are with whatever you have. Make sure to sign up for emails in case that’s your preferred method of staying in touch.

New or veteran, I thank you for visiting the site especially my core group who have been emailing me as the new site has been coming online over the past few days.

The Next Reader Meetup is on October 3, 2018!

It’s meetup time! Come join us for our fourth reader/listener meetup!

This is a casual, social event where you can chitchat about downtown Raleigh, transit, development and more. Each time we’ll choose a slightly different mix of area bloggers/podcasters related to Raleigh. We have a lot of fun conversation with amazing people doing cool things in Raleigh!

In addition to yours truly, come meet the people behind:

And maybe more?

Reader Meetup

Date/Time: Wed., Oct. 3 from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
London Bridge Pub

The Three-Speed City

Bird scooter parked at a bike rack on Fayetteville Street.

Ever since the electric scooter company, Bird, deployed in Raleigh everyone seems to have an opinion on this new form of personal mobility. Raleighites seem to be all over the spectrum but a recent survey run by the Raleigh DLA shows strong evidence that a majority of downtown residents and workers support e-scooters in downtown Raleigh but with some type of new regulation.

You can dive into those results here.

Mobility within Raleigh’s downtown has seen so much change since this whole revitalization thing started. I wonder if we’re getting closer to getting it right or still struggling with it.

Downtown Raleigh is too small to drive from one place to another yet big enough that walking from district to district feels far. (at least for most people I think) This presents a great opportunity for short-trip mobility services such as bikeshare, electric scooters, rickshaws, rideshare, and the R-Line circulator.

Personally, I love the plethora of options to move around. If I need to get from Seaboard Station to the southern end of Fayetteville Street, I could easily walk if it’s a nice day and I have the time, ride the R-Line for free and get there a little faster, ride a scooter for cheap and get there even faster, or request a ride in a car and be there quickly.

My impression of Raleigh right now is that no one is against having options. What the DLA survey suggests is that problems are arising when these options are conflicting with each other. It seems we have a city built for two speeds with a third speed emerging as a popular option and this new speed is struggling to find it’s space.

Generally speaking, pedestrians are annoyed by scooters on the sidewalk. Sure, it’s illegal and Bird informs users to use the street, a bike lane if available, but personal comfort levels vary widely. Not everyone is comfortable on the street so the sidewalk is a natural “safe” place. You become the dominant user on the sidewalk versus the pushover on the street.

A combination of education and safer streets are probably the cure for this rising middle speed. Also, a part of me thinks that over time users will become used to using scooters that they’ll be more confident on the streets. (I’ve seen some very nervous looking scooter riders out there!)

The quick adoption of scooters in downtown Raleigh is what bicycle advocates have been waiting for. It’s brought the conversation for safer streets for middle speed users front and center. How our city responds will be telling as trends point to more and more of this coming.

The day of the bike lane is over. It needs a new name.

There’s lot of chatter about dockless scooter in Raleigh on the DTRaleigh Community.

Pic of the Week

107 West Hargett demolition. September 2018.

The building at 107 West Hargett Street is being partially demolished. Covered in detail here, we can see that the rear, one-story section has been removed and will now have a five-story building that incorporates the brick, street-facing building that sits on the same property.

I’m a big fan of this project and would love to see more reuses of older Raleigh while still adding density to our downtown.