Raleigh Agenda: The City of Raleigh wants to improve the Southern Gateway

I’m contributing to a new online site called Raleigh Agenda. They launched earlier this month and I’m hoping to expand on some greater Raleigh development and other topics there as an addition to the blog. I recommend you check it out and subscribe to the email newsletter.

I have a post up there now about the city’s southern gateway and the vision plans around invigorating this tired, neglected area of the city. From the article:

It may be ironic then that this area, the Southern Gateway, is lacking the same kind of investment that other areas of the city are experiencing. An extremely vehicle-accessible area with roads like Saunders, Wilmington, MLK Boulevard, and the behemoth, I-40, are actually negatively impacting new investment.

*The City of Raleigh wants to improve the Southern Gateway via Raleigh Agenda.

Revisiting The Gateway Center

The end of Kindley Street, June 2016

The end of Kindley Street, June 2016. Click for a larger, wider view of the site.

I wanted to turn our attention today to what is being called downtown’s Gateway Center. The Downtown Plan calls out the area around the Performing Arts Center and the Raleigh Convention Center as a possible “catalytic project area” and sums it up as:

Coined the “Gateway Center,” this area is the only part of downtown capable of accommodating multiple blocks of large-footprint mixed-use development. Its proximity to the Convention Center and Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts will naturally lend its future to expanding tourism and entertainment-related uses, such as a large-scale sports and/or cultural facility, additional hotels, or a campus of related businesses.

*Raleigh Downtown Plan

Regular readers are probably familiar with this already because of the plan’s two concepts for this area, one of them includes a sporting arena. Let’s revisit those two concepts from the plan.

Concept 1
Gateway Center Concept 1

Click for larger and more info.

This concept imagines space to develop an Urban Innovation Campus for a new anchor employer or cluster of businesses. With easy access to several forms of transportation and close proximity to Fayetteville Street, the Warehouse District, and the heart of downtown Raleigh, this location has much to offer. New landmark structures provide the missing link between the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts and the rest of Fayetteville Street. These buildings could be linked to the Urban Innovation Campus, home to another employer, or even a hotel.

Concept 2
Gateway Center Concept 1

Click for larger

In this concept, the heart of the district is a new citywide destination. Either cultural, entertainment, or sporting in nature (or a mix of all three), the center anchors the district and provides a new draw for the city as a whole. The specific location for this use in the southwest corner
of the district is advantageous for several reasons. Positioning any large-footprint building towards the southwest corner of the district allows its architecture to frame the new southern gateway. The rest of the site is arranged into walkable city blocks that link the new district back to Fayetteville Street. In this way, a single entertainment or cultural use acts as a magnet to draw visitors to and through the district without becoming a barrier to walkability. Siting the largest development at the edge also capitalizes on the site’s natural topography, allowing the potential for underground parking easily accessed from main roads around downtown. Throughout the district, active ground-floor uses and building setbacks help break down the scale of larger buildings.

There’s more in the Downtown Plan which I recommend you download and take a look.

I also want to give some love to one of the most popular posts here on the blog. Reader Will imagined a baseball stadium in the Gateway Center and submitted some sketches. Check them out once again.

It’s important to note that the focus in the Gateway Center, at least according to internet chatter, is around where this possible stadium could go, the southwestern tip. The actual focus area does include the convention center, performing arts center, and the southern end of Fayetteville Street.

However, it’s that southwest tip that I want to zoom in on with a Google map showing the four properties there.

A bit of related news for the Gateway Center. The Exploris School, a charter school in downtown Raleigh, has purchased one of the properties that make up the Gateway Center. (highlighted in orange in the map)

Exploris has been a middle school for some time, located on Hillsborough Street. Two years ago, the elementary school opened in a temporary home on New Bern Avenue. The school has been looking for space to consolidate it all.

The former home of a data center for Duke Energy, the property actually looks perfect for a school campus. The lot has surface parking, an open field, and more room than Exploris needs. Plans call to renovate the extra space and lease it out as office space.

At this point, you, especially the skyscraper fans, may be noticing an incompatibility. This doesn’t seem to match the vision laid out in the Downtown Plan. It may stifle dense development in this area of downtown.

I think you are right but I’d like to lay out a different, more positive perspective.

Let’s look at the timing of things. The Downtown Plan was adopted in late 2015. Exploris has been looking for space since 2014, maybe even earlier. With the plan being a 10-year vision, we shouldn’t expect announcements for multi-building clusters in the south of downtown not even one-year into the plan.

We have until 2025 to really see the Gateway Center blossom and we can’t assume that Exploris is going to stay in this space forever. Like any other business or institution, they may outgrow the space or move into the new development of the future.

For me, I’ll take a progressive school like Exploris here than a monolithic infrastructure company like Duke Energy any day. I see Exploris “cracking the mold” to that site in a way.

One factor that I believe greatly ties into Gateway Center is Dix Park. These two areas are so close and Gateway Center could really be the connection between downtown Raleigh and Dix Park. Planning is in the infant stages as this year’s city budget, recently approved, starts the purchasing process for the land.

The MLK/Western interchange with McDowell and Dawson Street limits connectivity but it could be a great challenge for the future with respects to tying Dix into the downtown fabric.

The city also has a Southern Gateway Corridor Study underway with a final plan expected by this Fall. This is the area from MLK/Western to about I-40.

The City is exploring ideas for land use and transportation improvements along the corridor that will benefit businesses, residents, motorists, transit riders, pedestrians, and bicyclists.

The study even highlights Gateway Center in their map!

With more development taking place back in downtown, there are a lot of moving parts here. The Gateway Center and the vision laid out in the downtown plan still have a great shot at coming to life.

Consolidating City Offices Into a New Downtown Campus

Corner of McDowell and Hargett Streets

Corner of McDowell and Hargett Streets

The City of Raleigh has around 1,100 employees and in downtown, you can find them in a variety of places. One Exchange plaza on Fayetteville Street, behind the old Raleigh Union Depot facing Nash Square, and the City Hall block are just a few of them. In May, the city started discussing the possibility of consolidating those spaces, possibly others, into a downtown municipal campus.

The idea is to plan for new growth in a cost-effective way. The process to get there might involve selling off some city-owned properties. Right now, the thinking is to build this new campus on the current site of City Hall, the block bounded by Hargett/Morgan and McDowell/Dawson Streets. It would be paid for, partially, by selling some of the properties mentioned above and possibly others.

By looking at data from iMaps, I created this map of city-owned property in the downtown area.

For completeness, I searched for two terms, “City of Raleigh” and “Raleigh city of” to get those properties. There may be more but this covers a good amount. I combined a few together where it made sense and did not add some individual properties that I would consider to be in the East Downtown neighborhoods.

It’s interesting to see how much land there is but some of it makes sense with all the parking decks and cultural places like the Performing Arts Center and the Convention Center. The city owns, basically, zero properties in Glenwood South.

At this time, the city will work on landing a consultant to help with the process.

Long time readers may be experiencing Déjà vu here as the city has gone through a similar approach in recent history. Consolidating offices into a downtown tower, the Clarence E. Lightner Public Safety Center, was a big controversy in 2010. It eventually was scrapped as the cost, around $225 million, was seen as too high, among other concerns.

Rendering of the Lightner Tower

2010 rendering of the Clarence E. Lightner Public Safety Center

In the rendering, you can see that the 17-story tower would have replaced the Raleigh Police Department Headquarters building at the corner of Hargett and McDowell Streets. Since about that time, the RPD building has been empty and temporary offices set up elsewhere. (the downtown district offices are on Cabarrus Street)

Here we are in 2016 and a similar proposal is on the table with some differences. Rather than the term “tower” the term “campus” is being used. I cringe when I hear this term as “campus” reminds me of an office park with short, expansive buildings set back way too far from the street. Or worse, it reminds me of the state government “campus.”

I’m open to it though as the Downtown Raleigh plan makes a few recommendations for this area.

Hargett Street Should be a Pedestrian-oriented Street

  • “continue to evolve as key pedestrian-oriented retail streets”
  • “MA-3 Focus on downtown streets like Hargett and Martin Streets to create a great walking and retail environment from Raleigh Union Station to Moore Square and beyond.”
  • “a renovated Nash Square will seek to keep its center a peaceful respite, instead focusing energy and programming on the Hargett and Martin Street edges.”
  • “prioritizing Hargett and Martin as locations for restaurants and shops.”
  • “A new vision for existing city facilities located on the block north of Nash Square will bring a more vibrant mix of uses and street level activity to Hargett Street.”

That last one brings it home. In fact, the entire idea of redeveloping the City Hall block is right in the plan itself.

Hopefully, the consultant is shown this plan and can create active edges, especially along the Hargett Street side. Office space and parking will most likely be a part of the “campus” plan so to create more active streets and sidewalks, ground-floor retail space and an interior parking deck would be great elements of the plan.

A Walk Up North West Street

Staring down North West Street at Hillsborough Street

On an early morning weekday, I went for a walk up North West Street to check out a few projects and take photos of the current state of the street. West Street is an important street in my opinion as it is a direct connection from the Warehouse District to Glenwood South. Right now, it is more of a go-through street (by vehicle or bike) as opposed to a pedestrian hub of activity. That doesn’t mean there isn’t potential for a different face in the future.

There isn’t much to look at but the potential for new projects here is huge. There isn’t much retail or commercial right now. Some blocks of West are even lacking sidewalks.

While Glenwood Avenue is the primary pedestrian corridor of Glenwood South, West Street might do the heavy lifting with higher density projects in the near future as well as provide better connectivity in and out of the area.

Below is a map I made of highlights up and down North West Street. Let me know if a nearby project is missing and I can add it for completeness.

Open up the map yourself here.

At West and Hillsborough Street, you can already see the empty spaces ready for new uses. The mid-1900s storefronts along Hillsborough and the almost empty block at the corner of Hillsborough and West have been waiting for years. Would you consider this Glenwood South? I feel like this intersection doesn’t belong to either Glenwood South or the Warehouse District so the revitalization of those districts haven’t hit here yet.

Corner of West Street and Hillsborough Street

What could get this area moving are two, big nearby projects. One Glenwood and 301 Hillsborough are about two blocks along Hillsborough in each direction. Those two “bookend” projects could invigorate the street between them.

Heading north, the intersection of West and Jones could be much livelier in the near future. The Link Apartments has recently been finished at the Northeast corner and more residential units are planned at the Greyhound Apartments one block to the east.

The Link Apartments are now open at West and Jones.

The Raleigh Electric Company Power House building is an icon on Jones Street and we’re still waiting to see what comes of the space after Natty Greene’s lease was pulled last summer.

At the end of the block, we’re also waiting for the future offices of Google to open. It’s a high-profile company for sure but I still have mixed feelings against Google taking a great looking building and using it for offices and not something more active, especially in Glenwood South. We’ll see how it turns out.

Moving on, we pass multiple surface parking lots. I hope one-day that these lots will be replaced with more buildings that support more active uses.

The first example of when this could happen is at West and Tucker Street. The east side of West Street has had plans for years for more apartments. The West Apartments and West II Apartments have been in planning for awhile. I haven’t seen big changes to the plans but we’ve known about these projects since 2012. Hopefully, things will move on that in the near future as it is a big infill project as you can see on the map.

The West Apartments are planned for this surface lot.

A project that has been talked about for years, and is always worth highlighting, is not one around the street but under it. The Pigeon House Branch creek is buried below the area around North West Street. You can catch a glimpse of the creek about mid-block between Tucker and Johnson Street.

Creek to the left, street to the right.

Talks of opening up the creek have come and gone for awhile and it could be an asset in the newest Downtown Plan. The Glenwood Green district shows a plan for redevelopment in this area with a greenway that follows the creek path. It could be one of the most unique areas in downtown around that natural water feature.

Screenshot from the latest Downtown Plan.

West Street becomes more desolate around Johnson Street with the west side lacking sidewalks and more surface parking nearby.

Recently, news came out about the purchase of the buildings at 600 North West Street, the current location of Southland Ballroom and Themeworks. It was purchased by a joint effort involving Kane Realty and Williams Realty & Building Co.

No plans are out yet for the site. Once the replacement of the Capital Boulevard Bridge is finished, the area will see a reconfigured Harrington Street that connects to Peace rather than bending over to connect to West Street. Those plans may have played a factor in the area’s attractiveness to invest.

600 North West Street, current home of Themeworks and Southland Ballroom.

Hitting Peace Street, the walk has to continue northward. I hadn’t noticed before but the pedestrian amenities are much improved at West and Peace.

North of Peace Street, West Street doesn’t resemble the straight-as-an-arrow urban street but changes to a swerving street as it edges up against the Pigeon House Branch Creek. This light industrial and commercial area is seeing some signs of new activity.

Renovation almost complete at the corner of West and Peace.

At the Northwest corner of Peace and West, the renovation of the building where Lighting Inc used to be looks to be almost completed. The Lundy Group has come in here and bought this building and a few behind it for future redevelopment. Technology companies will be moving in here soon once the former Lighting Inc. building is finished.

While the area gets less urban the more north you go, there is something to be said about the view. Best view of downtown, in my opinion. Who can build a condo here for me?

The land topography may prove to be more challenging for a new development but with a possible park to the south called Devereux Meadows (see the Glenwood Greens plan above) it’s just a matter of time before this area gets built up.

Along the 800 “block”, a fantastic warehouse renovation has taken place. At this time, Morehead Capital is the current tenant.

There are also plans for the house next door. Each are shown in this photo below.

Old house at 713 North West Street, next to the warehouse renovation at 801 North West Street.

Development plans are on the city’s website for The Cardinal (SR-20-16), a bar and lounge planned for the house there at 713 North West Street. The lot next to it will be paved for surface parking.

I finished my walk once I hit 1000 North West Street and decided that was good enough. It’s all industrial at this point and with West ending at Wade, there isn’t much traffic. That could change if, as part of the Capital Boulevard Corridor, West Street is extended northward to connect to Fairview Road.

It may not look like it but West Street could be poised for something big and the pieces just feel like they are coming together for this very important downtown street.

Municipography, Food Trucks and Raleigh Bikeshare

title

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.

No embedded videos this week as for some reason, the city’s streaming video service is auto-playing the videos. I’m not into that.

Two long-talked topics were approved at this week’s city council meeting. The food truck debate has been a long one and a new pilot program will be rolled out to see how they operate on public property in and near downtown. Also, Raleigh will get its first bike share system in the coming years.

Food trucks

To watch/hear the discussion, click here.

The latest in the food truck saga is over the mobile food businesses operating in the public right-of-way. The plan is to designate five “zones” where the trucks can operate during the lunchtime hours. (10am-3pm) First Fridays will extend those hours to 8pm.

The five locations include:

  • The Warehouse District
  • Polk Street near the State Government Center
  • South State Street near the NC DMV
  • Bloodworth Street between Martin and Davie
  • The northern end of Moore Square

At this time, the Moore Square zone was dropped due to all the construction from the GoRaleigh Transit Station and Moore Square renovation.

The plan with the four zones passed unanimously and the new food truck pilot could be in place in 2-3 months.

Raleigh Bike share
To watch the video, click here and jump to around the 48th minute.

We talked about bike share in Raleigh recently and after a work session earlier in the day, the council decided to vote on it.

The plan was approved after a few brief comments. While councilors recognized that the city has needs outside of funding a bike share, the opportunity to have 80% of the installation costs covered by a federal grant was one they felt had to be taken. There was also lots of interest from the private sector to sponsor the system and the bike community was very vocal about their support.

“It’s up to you guys to use the system,” said Councilor Thompson. After three year, the system will be evaluated. It will most likely take two years to finalize the details and roll out the bike share system.

Moore Square Redesign Chugs Along Towards Construction

Views across Moore Square from the northeast

Views across Moore Square from the northeast

It has certainly been quite a few years in the making but while the movement may be slow, it’s always forward on this project. The design around a new Moore Square should be at around 40% in March of this year with construction starting this summer.

In December of 2015, the 15% schematic design was presented to council and approval was given to start permitting and getting construction documents made. Screenshots in this post are from that 15% design with the full document available on the city’s website.

Views across Moore Square to the northeast

Views across Moore Square to the northeast

For those that are not aware, Moore Square falls into the State’s territory so they need to give the nod before Raleigh goes ahead with their plans. All seems positive as earlier this year the North Carolina Council of State approved a partnership with the city.

As part of Governor Pat McCrory’s “Project Phoenix” initiative, the North Carolina Council of State has approved a partnership with the City of Raleigh to improve Moore Square in downtown Raleigh. While the State of North Carolina owns the property, the City of Raleigh is responsible for its upkeep. In recent years, the park has been in need of improvements, and today’s vote will start the process for that to happen.

*Improvements to Raleigh’s Moore Square Approved as Part of Governor McCrory’s Project Phoenix Initiative

We should also see strong commitment from our council on getting this project done as it was a major work item from their latest retreat.

Current plan

Current plan. Click for larger.

Even with much discussion, discussion against in my opinion, the presence of the kiosk and restrooms are still shown here in the square designs. (which this blogger supports) The location has changed slightly and the new building incorporates both amenities in a smaller footprint versus the former plan.

Expect the new Moore Square to open in Summer/Fall 2017. Will Moore Square continue to house the giant acorn? That is yet to be determined.

Chavis Park Master Plan Meeting on February 16

Downtown Raleigh and Chavis Park, photo by Lift Aerial

Downtown Raleigh and Chavis Park, photo by Lift Aerial

One could argue that Chavis Park is basically downtown Raleigh’s main park. A new master plan for the historic park that sits to the southeast of the city’s center has been in the works for most of last year and the final meeting on the phase 1 improvements is next week.

Park development steps, beginning with Phase 1 design plans, will be underway in the summer of 2016 when there will be a follow-up public review session. Construction documentation, engineering, and permitting, will then follow, preparing for Phase 1 construction in late 2017.

We’ll take a look at John Chavis Memorial Park and how it currently ties into the fabric of downtown later but to dive into it now, take a look at these links and get over to the meeting.

John Chavis Memorial Park Master Plan Implementation

Date/Time: Tuesday, February 16 from 3:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.
3:30 pm Presentation* 4-6:30 pm Open House 6:30 pm Presentation (repeated)*
*The presentations at 3:30 and 6:30 will be the same, so you can choose which works best for your schedule.
John Chavis Community Center
505 Martin Luther King Jr Blvd
Raleigh, NC 27601