History Lives in Raleigh’s Downtown Buildings

Today, I have a guest post from Tom Packer, President-Elect Rotary Club of Raleigh – Downtown. Tom reached out to me, we chatted a bit, and I wanted to get this post up about the club that has been meeting regularly in downtown for years. Enjoy and do check them out! – Leo

It’s easy to miss while walking past the ABC studios and SONO on Fayetteville Street, but on the brick wall of their building is an historical plaque commemorating North Carolina’s oldest charitable civic organization, the Rotary Club of Raleigh, which was founded at the site in 1914.

This site originally was the Yarborough House Hotel, which was destroyed by fire in 1928. Hudson Belk subsequently built a department store at the site which was converted to condominiums and the ground floor retail space in 2005.

Throughout this time, Raleigh’s Rotary Club has held its weekly meetings without fail at the Sir Walter Raleigh Hotel, then the Convention Center and in more recent years at the City Club atop the Wells Fargo Building. While this blog tends to highlight the buildings and structures, new and old, of downtown, sometimes it is nice to stop and reflect on what goes on inside these buildings, such as Rotary’s 117-year focus on serving our community.

Rotary’s first club president was Manly W. Tyree, pictured here in a 1915 photo and sporting a fashionable suit of the day.

Fast forward more than a century and Rotary’s 120+ members continue to live their motto of “Service Above Self” which includes the founding in 2014 of the Rotary Club of Raleigh Dental Clinic, which operates as Wake Smiles inside the Salvation Army Center of Hope on Capital Blvd.

The Rotary Club of Raleigh – Downtown has continued to work to support our community through the COVID pandemic, raising money to support such causes as StepUP Ministries, Solar Panels for Ugandan Schools, Southeast Raleigh YMCA, NC State Forestry Department Scholarship Fund, Salvation Army, Wake Smiles, MLK Food Distribution Day and the LeVelle Moton Park. Here are pictures of Rotarians recently out and working at LeVelle Moton Park and ringing bells for the Salvation Army’s red bucket.

If you are interested in making a difference by joining Downtown Raleigh’s Rotary Club or would like more information, contact them at raleighrotary@gmail.com or visit https://www.raleighrotary.org/ .

Downtown Status and Do Your Part to Help

This week, the city council received an update from Jim Greene, Assistant City Manager, and Bill King, President of the Downtown Raleigh Alliance, on the latest efforts to help and even reactivate downtown Raleigh as we continue through the COVID-19 pandemic. The riots over the death of George Floyd also had a big impact earlier this year as there are still storefronts with boards over their windows.

Today I’d like to ask readers to catch up with your downtown and take part in a short list of to-do’s that you can do to help downtown Raleigh.

Before we get in to the details, let’s get your responsibilities out of the way.

  1. Fill Out the 2020 Census to Help Downtown Raleigh’s Future. Do that here.
  2. Read about 7 ways to support local businesses.
  3. Bookmark this page and become a DTR foodie pro with takeout and dine-in options always changing.

Now how is downtown Raleigh doing?

You can jump to the video below and hear the report but some key takeaways include:

  • The city has a priority to reactivate downtown Raleigh
  • A majority of damage from the riots have been repaired with plans throughout the rest of the year to replace planters, transit stops, and the remaining glass
  • The city will expedite applications for outdoor dining on streets and parklets
  • The $5 parking fee on weekend nights in parking decks has been suspended
  • Food and beverage sales were at an all time low in April 2020 but have only been increasing
  • Public health is priority #1
  • 55 storefronts still have boards on windows but 66% are down
  • Board art is being kept and documented by Raleigh Arts

We’re getting there slowly and as the health crisis subsides, downtown vitality should only increase. As the look and feel of downtown comes back, so too will shoppers and visitors.

The video is below. [youtube link here]

Pic of the Week

I’m sharing a video this week as it contains some of the best renderings and future views of the upcoming Freedom Park, a public space dedicated to African Americans of North Carolina.

Planned for the corner of Lane and Wilmington Streets, between the NC Legislature and the NC Governor’s Mansion, the park will contain inspirational quotes from African Americans from North Carolina. There will also be a 48-foot sculpture in the park.

The new park should break ground in December 2019.

Digging Into Raleigh Through Baseball

Started in 2018 and growing throughout 2019, the MLB Raleigh movement has been creeping into different sectors of our city. “the time is now for Raleigh to get organized and put their city and their support for Major League Baseball on display,” their site says.

The folks behind MLB Raleigh have made merchandise that have flown off shelves. Trophy Brewing made a beer. Their profits go towards fixing up baseball fields, partnering with the Boys and Girls Club of Raleigh.

They also have the data to show that we line up, sometimes better, than other cities that have established professional baseball teams.

The guys I’ve talked to behind MLB Raleigh are enjoying the questions they get when they announced to the city, “Why doesn’t Raleigh go for a baseball team?” (see their FAQs) The community has shown up for this and through it, ideas for a team, location, and stadium, have risen out of this grassroots effort.

Whether an MLB team in Raleigh makes sense or not is one thing but behind the covers of this sports-related effort is a true Raleigh-based conversation. The group is using baseball as a vehicle to help educate others on the region’s size and growth, start conversations on city planning and transit, and even diving into a much-discussed topic in Raleigh; brand.

What would you call our baseball team?

Where would your baseball team play?

What colors or logo would they use?

That has been an exciting aspect to watch as MLB Raleigh has tapped Raleigh’s design community to brainstorm and create. You need to dig deep and figure out what, with a logo or name, speaks to people and tells them that this is Raleigh and no other place.

In August 2019, a design event showcased some of those team names and logos that have come from those thinking about how to speak Raleigh to potential baseball fans. This is a fantastic exercise in a topic that I think is important for Raleigh.

What is Raleigh’s brand?

One aspect that I think a lot of folks forget or either don’t know is that Raleigh really was a small town leading up to the mid-1900s. You could argue that we are in the first big growth boom that Raleigh has experienced. Other cities have seen growth at different periods in their history so have been able to layer that history, and aspects from it, on top of each other, making it a part of their identity. (and their sports teams for example)

As Raleigh’s growth continues it would set us up well if the city could find that identity and build some kind of foundation to build on. We have the opportunity to blend many different perspectives with so many locals and newcomers.

With the baseball movement, we may get more out of it than just summer-time games to skip work for. If baseball helps bring out an aspect of our city that we can embrace and the world starts seeing it as the Raleigh-way, it’ll be more than just baseball that benefits but something that Raleigh-based businesses, non-profits, residents, and visitors can experience 365 days a year.

It may just take a logo or name that tells the Raleigh story.

If you’re interested in MLB Raleigh and getting involved, check out their website and sign up to be a supporter.

Get Your Raleigh Flag From Civic Flags!

I had the pleasure of meeting up with Steve Rehnborg over at the Raleigh Night Market recently and he showed me his first wave of products that his company, Civic Flags, is offering. This includes a City of Raleigh flag!

Partially inspired by this 2012 blog post about the flag, Civic Flags fills in a gap in our city: you can’t easily order a flag for your own enjoyment!

I’ve got my flag so wanted to inform readers of the new site. Jump on over and see what they got. You can also follow them on Instagram to keep up with them.

The PNC Spire Lights Up Downtown Raleigh for 10 Years


See tweet by @metroscenes of fireworks with the Raleigh skyline on Twitter.

Ten years ago today, there was a dedication ceremony held on the roof of our city’s tallest building. The spire of the PNC Plaza, then called RBC Plaza, was lit up for the first time. As I noted in this August 2008 post, then RBC Bank CEO Scott Custer said:

The lighting of the RBC Plaza is a symbol of the progress of the revitalization of downtown Raleigh.

Ten years have gone by and the 33-story PNC Plaza is still the tallest building around. That could mean a number of things. Some of us may measure progress with height and flash while others with amenities and vibrancy.

A lot has happened over the last ten years in downtown Raleigh including a great recession that scrapped plenty of projects that may have joined PNC Plaza’s height. A wave of apartments has crashed in downtown Raleigh since then and PNC Plaza remains the only building with residential units at that height.

You could say PNC Plaza was the end of an era.

RBC Plaza under construction seen from the Boylan Bridge. May 2008.

RBC Plaza under construction seen from the Boylan Bridge. May 2008.

While height above 30 floors doesn’t seem to be something popping up in and around downtown Raleigh since the completion of PNC Plaza, downtown continues to deliver new buildings that are filling in around her. People keep moving here and new businesses continue to open up here.

I’d like to think that the PNC Plaza spire lighting up ten years ago wasn’t exactly a symbol of our revitalization but rather the homing beacon for future newcomers. It’s also a welcome home sign to long-term residents journeying back.

It may be hard to spot but you can see it with the right window seat when landing at RDU at night.

It’s become a part of our home.

Here’s hoping we never miss a night with that light off.

Come discuss this and other downtown Raleigh-related topics on the DTRaleigh community.

Fund the work of Raleigh’s Photo History Detective

If you spend time in downtown Raleigh, it’s not hard to run into historic photos of our city. Restaurants, shops, and offices have been getting photos from the State Archives office and framing them as part of their renovations and presence throughout the growing times of downtown Raleigh.

These photos are maintained, labeled, and identified by the good folks at the State Archives office. A local star among these efforts is Karl Larson who has done great work in helping to identify photos and where they may come from.

His detective work is top notch and this new Indiegogo campaign was an easy one for me. I encourage you to take a look and consider it if this kind of work is important to you.