Raleigh Magazine had a great event earlier this month in downtown Raleigh. While this post is not about the event exactly, you can’t help but spot the urbanism that took place during it. A parking lot was taken over for one night to bring people together to celebrate Raleigh’s hospitality industry. Easily, over 100 people were in this space, covered by a tent, where about a dozen or so cars typically park. I attended the event and couldn’t help but notice that this space works much better for people rather than for cars.Continue reading →
It has now been 16 years since I started the blog and I couldn’t be happier with the current state of it. There are still new readers that are discovering it for the first time as well as long time followers who are sticking with me. I appreciate all the kind words everyone has sent in and for any of your contributions including eyes-on reports, photos, and curious thoughts.
This is an excellent time in the post to state that I also appreciate those who have contributed financially to help with the maintenance of this site as well as the chattier, sister site, the DTRaleigh Community. I only ask once a year but if you find value, in any way at all, for the online work that I do about downtown Raleigh, consider a small tip over here through my Paypal. Suggested amount is currently at $16 so get it in now before it’s $17 next year.
I can’t help but put it out there that I am having a BALL being in and around downtown Raleigh. Things are still kicking and there is no shortage of fun times to be had. Food and drinks are top of mind but I’m including other things like events, museums, music, performances, and the arts. With a little planning, a lot of people can have a great day or night out in downtown.
However, being a local, and running a blog for over 16 years, means you start to notice some things, some trends.
If you are a local news junkie like me, the headlines aren’t helping downtown Raleigh. This is a hard perspective to see, as a local, but I feel that if you have never been to downtown, or the city in general, judging us by the news and online chatter will tell you a few things. The main one I wanted to call out today is a perception that we’re demolishing all our historic buildings and replacing them with soulless glass towers.
Defining historic is tough and very subjective. What is a historic building anyway?
The underlying frustration from locals is probably seeing parking lots, some of them not even paved but made of gravel, remain in downtown while century-old buildings, perfect for renovation, are instead torn down. The opinion spectrum is wide on this topic but I have a working theory that the loss of the business inside an older building is more valuable than the building itself.
Take for example The Berkeley Café at 217 West Martin. If the building was empty, would the rezoning case that threatens demolition have been amended later to exclude the building? I don’t think it would have been. It helped that The Berkeley was there and the owners removed the rezoning of 217 West Martin and even extended the lease for The Berkeley.
Another example is Goodnight’s, the comedy club formerly at 865 West Morgan Street. Would the demolition of their location have been so news-worthy if locals thought Goodnight’s was closing for good? I’m not so sure it would have been.
Today, Goodnight’s moved over to nearby Village District but the building at 865 West Morgan is now gone. The Berkeley Café is still open in the same location but the future of the business, and the building, is still undetermined.
So which story are you reading? The possibility of Goodnight’s or The Berkeley Café closing or the demolition of the buildings they occupy?
I think the point I’m trying to make is that it’s so important to support the people, typically that’s also their local business, that is affected by the changes going on in downtown Raleigh. We have national attention on us now and while some big-time projects are good for the health of the city, it can’t come at the expense of the people who are making downtown local.
I feel this is ultimately what people want, more so than to save a building. We want local tastes to thrive and the growth threatens that, more so than just tearing down buildings from past centuries. At least that’s the theory I’m working on.
This brings me to my header image at the top. Here is West Street in October 2012. This is before The Dillon, Raleigh Union Station, Citrix, and Morgan Street Food Hall. At the time, I would have called this a pretty dead street. Other than Five Star, this area didn’t have much going on as a majority of that warehouse space was empty.
Today, the street is obviously very different and tends to be vibrant throughout the day. Even more is coming to the area and while some hate to see the demolition of the warehouses, I just can’t get behind it when you think about what is was like and what it is now. Even more so with the fact that the buildings were empty. Five Star did relocate further down West Street by the way.
Now it may be a huge hassle for a business to move like Goodnight’s or Five Star did. I don’t know, I’m not a business owner, but it can be done and I imagine it’s easier when locals like us support them through it. That’s what’s really important and what drives downtown vibrancy from my perspective.
I’ll leave it at that for today but next time, as I’m sure it’ll happen again, when an older building facing re-development hits the news, think about the local businesses that are affected and your feelings towards the building itself. As always, make sure you are spending your dollars at these places cause that is the best way to help them out and keeping downtown local as much as freakin’ possible.
Lately, I’ve been less active on the front-side of the Raleigh House of Connoisseur but have been heads down working with creating a new map. I don’t think I’m finished and honestly, haven’t even started any type of analysis, but I wanted to put an update out there and share something with readers.
TLDR? Just go here to the map.
I was inspired when I stumbled on this map of Paris, introduced by the tweet shown below. Technically, it was something I wanted to see if I could build for Raleigh but also, it would be interesting to see how the buildings of today have held up. Are we seeing “mass teardowns” as some people think? What other questions might we begin to answer?
I then found the “ingredients” on the city’s open data websites around Raleigh parcel data and using the “year built” field, I starting analyzing over 130,000 pieces of data.
The map I put together shows Raleigh’s existing stock of buildings as of May 2022. It’s important to note that this is a snapshot in time, not buildings constructed over time. For example, if a home built in the 1950s was torn down for a new construction home in 2015, the parcel would show in the 2010s decade, not the 1950s.
Please note that the property shapes have been optimized so that the map is somewhat usable. Don’t take them literally.
I grouped properties by decades with an additional “Pre-1920s” category. This was driven mostly by number of buildings as the counts before 1920 is pretty low. Here’s a bar chart.
Probably not. I’m releasing it into the wild and see how it sits for awhile. We are discussing it on the Community on this thread so if you have any questions or thoughts, please join us.
I’m hoping to continue tinkering with this map and see what we can extract from it. Questions I have could be:
- Are there neighborhoods that have been completely turned over?
- Are certain neighborhoods less susceptible to teardowns than others?
- Where do you see a mix of buildings being produced at a constant rate?
- Why is the building count in the 2010s so much lower?
- How might annexations and border expansions played a role over time?
- How might protectionist overlays, like NCODs and historic overlays, played a role?
Expect follow up posts in the future.
Wow. I’ve certainly done plenty of blog birthdays but now at year 15, it feels a little special. Sure it’s a typical milestone to celebrate for a lot things. Maybe not as worthy as the ten-year post, I really liked that one by the way, but I wanted to try a little reset and reflection today. For the new followers in the room, and long-time readers, let’s start at the beginning as I (re)introduce myself.
My name is Leo Suarez and I am a downtown Raleigh resident. I started this website in January 2007 and wrote about all kinds of things including development, city council meetings, urban planning, new restaurants, and a few other topics. The focus though was, and has always been, downtown Raleigh.
While my job and hobbies are pretty typical, I am 100% dedicated to an urban lifestyle as much as Raleigh can provide me. The meaning of urban lifestyle certainly has evolved over the 15 years that I have been running this blog as well as the younger brother site, the DTRaleigh Community, but one core principle seems to be the same.
The social component in and around downtown has stood up for these 15 years and I believe it will always be a concrete principle in pretty much all aspects to downtown experiences.
I have been pro-resident from day one since I moved into my apartment as a fresh, single college-graduate on Fayetteville Street in December 2006. Now, living in a house east of Moore Square, married, with a young daughter, there’s certainly a new dynamic for some things but being social is what differentiates this area compared to the rest of the city.
And that’s what I’m here for. It’s all about people and the interactions we have between these collections of buildings. It’s quite nice to be honest.
Let’s be Social!
Speaking of socializing, a group of us meet up every second Thursday of the month, organized on our Meetup page, and I hope you can come out to the February meetup. Come say hi, there’s no agenda.
All the buildings and roads make up the playground for socializing humans. It’s a visual feast of treats from people watching to the variety of architecture.
Downtown residents are certainly a small group. The Downtown Raleigh Alliance says there are 21,000 residents within a mile-radius. That’s less than 5% of the total population of the city. It’s growing though for sure as it seems every year, hundreds of new apartments, townhomes, or condos are opening up. New residents keep coming. (Welcome by the way!)
But beyond residents, downtown plays host to visitors. For work or play, people spend time here and they are socializing to a certain degree. That’s probably why we get folks from all over Raleigh, and beyond, at our meetups and commenting on the Community. Downtown seems to be for more than just those that live here.
Socializing in downtown is probably assumed to mean eating or drinking in any of the numerous bars or restaurants here. That’s typical for sure but there’s even more. Coffee shops, records stores, grocery stores, hair salons, and office lobbies. The more time you put into it the more social it gets.
For me, people watching and random encounters have been very memorable and it’s almost addictive to be around.
Last, there’s the sidewalk. I’ve walked all over, snapping photos for the blog, for years and the sidewalk is like the nerve center of downtown Raleigh. I read it somewhere so can’t take credit for this but people attract people. Simply put, the idea of walkable mixed-use areas is always attractive, whether it be for business, for recreation, or something else. That’s why it was copied in the shopping malls of the 20th century, like at Crabtree Valley Mall, and it’s being copied right now in North Hills and other developments in our area suburbs.
15 years feels long enough to notice plenty of trends but still young enough that I need to wait and see if these trends stand the test of time. I’ll be betting on people and their desire to socialize being a driving-force for downtown Raleigh for years to come.
Here’s to being social, past, present, and future! Happy 15! See you out there.
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.
- Railroad tracks remain unmoved, serve as backdrop for center field and soccer goal. (“Railhawks” takes on a new meaning)!
- Single stadium provides for both baseball and MLS while fitting nicely into the footprint.
-Dual-purpose stadium provides building funds from two teams instead of one.
- I’ve measured, and both fields are regulation size. The soccer field is exactly the same dimensions as WMSP.
- Multi-modal transit station–train and bus–serving stadium, Red Hat Amp, Convention Center, DECPA, and plaza.
- Baseball stadium is inspired by an amalgamation of other parks: “Boxy” shape (Citizens Bank Park, Philadelphia), sweeping outfield upper decks (Polo Grounds, NYC), home plate rotunda (Ebbets Field, Brooklyn), rooftop stands beyond tracks (Wrigley Field, Chicago).
- Above CF/goal wall will be the tracks. Above and behind the tracks will be restaurants/bars with porch seating. On top of those restaurants/bars is stadium seating a la Wrigley Field.
- Field itself could be artificial turf, as well as the dirt areas. Artificial infields are becoming popular in newer baseball parks (WFU, Duke, Holly Springs), and would make for easy transitioning between sports.
- Backstop netting would also protect spectators from kicked soccer balls.
-Outfield plaza features office and apartment high-rises, restaurants/bars, grocery, retail, and yes, the displaced rink!!
A big thanks to reader Will who submitted this sketch of how to convert the southern gateway site, called Gateway Center in the downtown plan, into a possible baseball stadium. Will adds the following bullets:
- New transit station @ South and McDowell to serve the ballpark, the convention center, RHA, DECPA, new hotels.
- Parking at Union Station or Dillon with some kind of “tram” shuttle service from Union Station to new transit station.
- Utilization of other existing nearby decks a la DBAP in Durham.
- Railroad tracks would be wrapped around ballpark but integrated into the structure itself…imagine the tracks abutting the right field wall just above the fence…”hit train, win steak!”
- Ballpark (capacity 6,000 – 7,000?) is drawn to same scale as other minor league parks, so it would fit here. It would, however, be “cozy” to fit in existing footprint and maximize fan proximity to field and players.
- Grandstands wrap the infield, large patio area down 3rd base line, upper deck luxury boxes would wrap 1st base line for best skyline views.
- Grass berm behind left field bullpens enhance fan access (HR balls, close to warming relief pitchers).
- Outfield plaza would be zoned for restaurant/bar, retail, office (for those offices that would be displaced), and would include other family attractions: ground-based fountains, carousel, and the wintertime skating rink that will be displaced by Charter Square North.
- City’s desired extension of Salisbury St. could still be achieved.
What do you think?
-Stadium was moved toward the SW, allowing for the tracks to remain unmoved.
-Stadium was expanded to show what a MLB park might look like in this space.
-I removed the MLK-McDowell on-ramp to make room. Traffic would be re-routed in the following way: westbound MLK traffic wishing to go north on McDowell would instead turn left at the existing light onto the existing ramp, wrapping under the MLK overpass. You see the same configuration in Cary where westbound Walnut St. traffic turns left onto a ramp to enter US-1 north.
-The “home plate” corner would be snug against the MLK/McDowell intersection, a la the new Busch Stadium configuration in St. Louis (picture below).
-Plaza enlarged, more retail, restaurants, new parking deck, and a grocery store.
[UPDATE #3: Reader Stew has submitted an overlay of Carter-Finley stadium over the Cargill site, called “Cargill-Finley Stadium. This is similar to an overlay I did awhile back with the PNC Arena over the state jail site. Thanks Stew!]
There has been plenty of conversation about a variety of topics lately and I try and group them together to relevant posts on the blog. For this week, I’m throwing up an anything goes post as we wind down to the end of the year.
Recent interesting downtown Raleigh news:
- News & Observer looking to sell downtown Raleigh headquarters via TBJ
- Gas guzzlers can’t stay out of electric-only parking in Raleigh via N&O
- Downtown Raleigh businesses grow ahead of foot traffic influx via TBJ
Embedded and linked above, you can listen to my interview on “This is Raleigh”, a show hosted by Ben McNeely that plays on Little Raleigh Radio. I enjoyed talking to Ben about transit, parking, and this blog. Make sure to follow the show going forward.
Speaking of radio, Little Raleigh Radio has started streaming their feed online while they wait for a chance to create a low-power FM signal. Make sure to give them a try and see if there’s something that interests you.
If you have a smartphone, the feed can be added using some helpful apps. For iOS devices, give FStream a try. I’m using ServeStream on my Android phone and the feed comes in just fine.
Here are two links to get their stream, whether it’s in a phone app or your browser.