Video of the Week

Watch a video of Raleigh City Farm from Laurel Varnado on Vimeo.

We envision a small central farm located in downtown Raleigh that grows and markets food in the city. Core operations are self-sufficient, sustained by revenue from sales to Raleigh residents and restaurants. We are part of a sustainable food system that provides competitively priced fresh produce while restoring the environment.

See Raleigh City Farm (raleighcityfarm.com)

Arena Alternatives For Downtown

Isn’t talking about an arena in downtown thrilling? Mayor Charles Meeker seems to be pushing it but the Triangle Business Journal’s poll indicates that many readers are not in favor of it. I welcome the sports arena much closer to downtown but only when it makes sense. I feel it is too early to start talking about building another to replace the RBC Center. Instead, I’d like to bring up alternatives that we could pursue instead of another arena that would add an additional entertainment option to the city.

According to the RBC Center’s website, the construction cost was $158 million. I do think moving the arena closer to downtown will spur its economy and be a catalyst for lots of business openings but at the same time, we will probably be forced to build more parking decks.

There are other downsides to having the arena in an urban setting. Any form of tailgating before hockey or basketball games will be gone, something that is hugely highlighted when the Carolina Hurricanes go to the playoffs. That is something unique to the area, something that not many other places have. I also know that those driving to the arena for games from outside of Raleigh are happy with the ease of access via Wade Avenue. The I-40 to South Saunders exit toward downtown is not the best entryway for game-day traffic so if the arena was built, some highway upgrades would be needed as well.

Rather then build another arena in downtown and add very little to Raleigh’s offerings for its citizens and visitors, here is a short list of attractions we could be thinking about with a $158 million budget.

Aquarium

Aquariums are my personal favorite kind of venue and would be a great addition to the downtown museum offerings. I’m not sure if the numbers would make sense with the largest aquarium in the world seven hours away in Atlanta but a huge aquarium with a unique offering of sea life could draw people downtown almost every day of the year.

Transit Station and Museum

With $158 million, I’m sure a multi-modal transit station down in the warehouse district would be as good as done. A unique architecturally designed building could be built as well as incorporating some of the Dillon warehouses for a huge station with shops and a transit museum, highlighting some of Raleigh’s old streetcar network and history.

Technology and Science Museum

This needs no explanation. As the technology center for the state, Raleigh could build a very unique museum highlighting some of the newest technology being developed out there. This would be an easy field trip for tons of schools around the state. I’m sure donations from a few area companies would not be hard to get either, elevating the look and offering of this science and technology museum.

Buy Dix property and make it a park

Offers like $10.5 million do not seem to get the job done so with a substantially greater budget, perhaps the Dix park vision could come true.

Downtown Wifi Is Live

The downtown Raleigh wifi, provided to you at no cost, is up and running. I’m actually writing this blog post while sitting on a bench on Fayetteville Street and the results are very satisfying. I have all my social media applications running just fine and checking my e-mail is pretty snappy. I’m actually quite impressed with the way YouTube runs and if you are patient, pre-loading HD video is not impossible. SpeedTest.net clocked the download AND the upload speed around 1 megabyte. That’s not bad at all for free wifi.

The real question is available bandwidth and how several users at once may slow down the network. A new user will find that multiple access points are spread out around downtown, the closest having the best signal strength. This should alleviate network drops during high usage but I’m curious as to how big the pipes are behind the scenes.

The wifi is available in the highlighted areas shown on this map from this pdf on the city’s website.

These areas make sense as they have lots of foot traffic already and open public spaces where people can sit down and use the internet. Fayetteville, Wilmington, and parts of Blount Street have the most walked on sidewalks. City Plaza, Moore Square, and Nash Square will always have congregations of people that can take advantage of the wifi. The Convention Center is an obvious choice as lots of business takes place here.

This is a great addition to make downtown more marketable.

Ice Rink on Charter Square or What Else?

Photo on Flickr (via LWY)

I’m sure as most of you know, the era of little credit is upon us and recently it has affected the start of construction at Charter Square. The Raleigh City Council has given the developers an extension and ideas are being thrown around for temporary uses for the area on top of the concrete foundation. From the linked article in the N&O, some ideas are for an ice rink or for artificial turf to be laid across the concrete. Temporary use of the area while we wait for the economy to strengthen is a great idea because we have the flexibility to try new things. If they work, it can be moved to something more permanent. If not, it will result in only a small loss and good proof that the idea does not work in downtown. Here are some other inexpensive ideas that could be worth looking into while we have a fluid space before the towers are built.

1. Stage

A public stage could be set up for use by anyone. Think of a common area in a mall, there is always something on display or special event going on, in and around the elevated area. Groups could use it to gather around for outdoor presentations or to entertain Fayetteville Street pedestrians.

2. Art Exhibits

Like the outdoor art that is coming to City Plaza, the space could be used for outdoor art or could be an extension to what is on display nearby.

3. Wifi/power hotspot

Set up some benches, a couple power stations, dedicated wifi, and we’ll have a hive of internet surfers relaxing outside. This is similar to what Toyota recently did as part of their Prius marketing campaign. Solar collectors were installed with benches and wifi to provide you power for your laptop and cell phone as you access the net outside.

4. Sports field

If the artificial turf is laid out, we could go one step further. Paint some lines, set up two goals, and a mini field is born for pickup games of soccer or football.

5. Outdoor convention center space

The space could also be rented to the convention center. The crew running it could manage the land and use it for outdoor setups if clients prefer an outdoor, sidewalk atmosphere to being indoors.

Photo on Flickr (via Toyota USA)

City of Raleigh | Art Will Be Part Of Plaza, RWO4 Celebration


As the City Plaza project nears its completion, three City-commissioned art projects are also being developed. At Tuesday’s Raleigh City Council meeting, Raleigh Arts Commission chair Laura Raynor described each project and said that each work will make a unique mark on Downtown Raleigh, just in time for Raleigh Wide Open 4, Oct. 24

via City of Raleigh | Art Will Be Part Of Plaza, RWO4 Celebration.

Public Wifi And Its Potential Impact

Recently, the Raleigh city council has gone ahead and given the OK for public wifi in the downtown area. According to the N&O, the area bounded by Person, Morgan, South and West streets will have free access to the internet over the wifi network. Spending the money for a free service does come with its criticisms as many people are nervous about the economy these days. As a big internet user and downtown resident, this makes my life better, as well as my options for ‘geeking out‘ around downtown. However, the service is not aimed for residents but more for visitors and, as the city’s website states, to:

…support downtown revitalization efforts, including the reopening of Fayetteville Street to vehicular traffic, the opening of the Raleigh Convention Center and the highly anticipated opening of City Plaza in the fall.”

I’m not sure I agree with this wording because vehicular traffic and wifi are not a great match but that is just me being snarky. Anyway, I have never had the experience of using free public wifi even though it is a growing trend in many cities across the nation. I would imagine that wifi makes sense because of the increasing amounts of internet capable devices people are buying. Also, I’m sure it is safe to assume that many of the Raleigh Convention Center’s visitors are from out of town. The laptop is such a common device that many have with them while traveling for business. So does easier access for visitors make a difference? We’ll have to find out on our own but I looked at the City of Seattle to see what they have been doing with their now four year public wifi experiment.

Seattle has a very informative website that talks about the wifi situation in the city. Some of the items they list are its affects on businesses, usage numbers, and future plans for the network. One section, that should be read by anyone interested, is titled “Evaluation: Does It Make A Difference?”. It looks like there was a positive impact and as the website briefly states:

In short, there was an economic benefit seen by about a quarter of the businesses, and users found a great deal of benefit through cost and transportation savings and convenience for personal and business uses.

There is a very thorough 32 page report (pdf) for you to peruse through but I’ll stick to the three page summary for now. Here are some key facts taken from this report:

  • One-quarter of businesses surveyed have seen a positive impact on revenues and customer numbers.
  • It is not viewed as a significant competitor to those who already had wi-fi, and is seen as overall beneficial to the district.
  • Two-thirds [of users] said yes when asked whether Seattle Wi-Fi contributed to their coming to the area today. Three-quarters said that Seattle Wi-Fi encouraged them to go into a business in the area.
  • Over half the users in the survey (53.3%) answered that the presence of Seattle Wi-Fi had saved them driving.
  • Seattle Wi-Fi increased the use of Seattle.gov

It looks like Seattle saw mostly positive signs from the wifi in the specific areas that had it. This is just one example out of the many areas around the country that have public wifi so whether the benefits will be the same in Raleigh will have to be seen in a few years. Comparing Seattle to Raleigh is tough but it is good to see other cities having success with their wifi projects. It could be one more benefit to doing business and spending money in the downtown area, where the tax revenue is felt by the entire city. If usage is high once the network goes up this fall, there is the oppurtunity to create revenue from the service in order to possibly pay for itself and future upgrades.

Maybe Raleighwifi.org will get a makeover once the network is up and running.