Diving Into A Future With Social Districts

In late 2021, the North Carolina Legislature passed a new bill (HB890) to allow social districts in counties and towns. Loosely defined, social districts allow people to buy an alcoholic beverage in one business and take it with them. You may have seen these in other cities where people can get a drink in a plastic cup and walk around an entertainment area or downtown.

I’ve done the same behavior in the past in places like Savannah and Key West and had my own first impressions about bringing that to Raleigh. I decided to look more into it and I’ll have to admit, my first impressions were a bit off.

Today, plans for social districts in Raleigh are being discussed in committee. The committee members and city staff want to get the rules in place in a thoughtful manner in order to minimize any unintended gotchas that may happen. Downtown Raleigh is a great place for the concept but places like Hillsborough Street or North Hills may have them in the future.

The topic right now is in Raleigh’s Economic Development and Innovation committee. The May 24, 2022 meeting, video above or here on YouTube, is a great one to watch and get a feel for the conversation around social districts for Raleigh.

Let me share some quick points that I took watching this video as well as an intro to the topic that took place back in February.


  • Allowing social districts was seen as a response from COVID’s hit on small businesses.
  • Social districts are seen as an economic development tool.
  • The feedback is positive that it does in fact bring more business to areas that implement them.
  • Kannapolis was the first to implement one, put in place one week after allowed.
  • Greensboro is the largest NC city with a social district today.
  • The Downtown Raleigh Alliance held a community survey that showed a majority (over 70%) in support of social districts in downtown Raleigh.
  • Major concerns are enforcement, bad behavior, and cleanliness.
  • An additional concern is the waste around single-use cups.

What I wanted to know is how this works and how I might use it during a weekend out. The topic is still being worked in the committee meetings but generally speaking, if you were inside some area that was a social district and went to a bar, you could have your drink put in a specially branded cup. That cup would also have a sticker with the bar’s name on it. You then have the freedom to take the drink with you.

But then what? The details are of course important:

  • You can walk around the social district with your beverage without issue but you cannot take it outside the boundaries.
  • Businesses inside the social district can either opt-in or opt-out of the social district. Therefore, if you’d like to do some shopping with a drink, that shop needs to say whether they allow the drink or not.
  • You cannot bring your drink to another bar.
  • You most likely can’t bring that drink to a special event that is also selling alcohol.

Some of these details are being finalized but any impression that this is a party-centric move is completely false.

I like to loosely compare it to buying a soda at a convenience store or food shop. You certainly can take it with you, drink it on the sidewalks, even bring it inside some shops. But it’s generally frowned upon to bring it into other food places. (at least I think it is)

Another use case I thought of is when there is a big event on Fayetteville Street that doesn’t sell drinks I like. If I want a tasty beer, I can now bring it with me, rather than having to sit at the bar to enjoy that tasty beer.

The general thinking is to allow social districts on Thursdays to Sundays from about 11am to 10pm. Sunday will probably end earlier. Times are still open and being worked in committee.

The next steps are to finalize the rules and how to roll out a pilot around Fayetteville Street and City Market. Then, the general council can vote on implementing it for the Fall. Keep an eye on the next meeting scheduled for June 28, 2022.

Pic of the Week

We’re getting reports that Publix, located along Peace Street at the intersection with West Street, is set to open in early September. This makes the road work nearby feel practically complete as crews just need to put the finishing touches on the bridge over Peace Street. Publix is more reason to celebrate almost four years of road construction finally ending.

Throughout the 2000s and early 2010’s, a downtown grocery store was one of those key reasons folks said they wouldn’t seriously consider living in downtown Raleigh. They are now here so if Weaver Street didn’t get you packing, Publix should seal the deal!

Pic of the Week

The downtown revitalization has reached a new level with the first major grocery store of this era. Weaver Street Market is now open on Hargett Street in the Warehouse District!

There is plentiful seating on the upper balconies and the hot bars are easy for grabbing some good, faster food for meals. That’s, of course, in addition to the several aisles of grocery items and fresh produce. The store is open 7am-10pm every day.

One of the top reasons for not living downtown was the lack of a full grocer, claimed a lot of people in the last 15 or so years. What’s the next excuse?

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.

Municipography: Downtown Wayfinding Kiosks

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.

I recommend email readers click through to the website to see the embedded video.

An IKE wayfinding kiosk on display in front of Union Station.

An IKE wayfinding kiosk on display in front of Union Station.

During the October 2, 2018 city council meeting, councilors received an update on the latest downtown wayfinding plan that comes from the Downtown Raleigh Alliance. The presentation given introduces IKE, a free-standing kiosk with a touchscreen, that presents downtown retail, transit, and event info to pedestrians. The company, IKE Smart City, makes revenue off advertising with the DRA getting a cut of that revenue.

In addition to the touchscreen, a built-in camera can be used for selfies, pedestrian counting, and even public safety if the city wanted it too. A lot of features seemed optional, tailoring the IKE experience for each community as Jibran Shermohammed, Director of Development & Corporate Counsel at IKE Smart City, mentions during the presentation. Below is the video of Mr. Shermohammed as well as DRA president Kris Larson at the council meeting followed by the discussion.

If you can’t see the embedded video, click here to watch it on YouTube.

The presentation by Mr. Larson and Mr. Shermohammed is near flawless, describing the kiosks and the agreements between IKE Smart City and the DRA. Wayfinding comes back into the picture from our 2015 Downtown Raleigh Plan and the system checks all the boxes in terms of accessibility and equity.

The kiosks are also data gathering points collecting information such as pedestrian counts and usage, all anonymized and available for the city. The kiosks themselves are maintained by IKE Smart City including both the hardware and software. Any damage to the units are taken care of and each kiosk receives regular software updates.

The advertising complies with all City of Raleigh advertising policy so anything you see around town right now, like on the buses, is basically the same as you’ll see on the kiosks.

Finally, all this comes free of charge to the city. The company just needs the blessing of the council to allow them to be installed on public property. The approval to move forward with implementation, as well as a text change to our sign ordinance, was needed to make these kiosks happen.

It seems like all bases were covered here on this project yet councilors had concerns or at least perceived concerns, about the IKEs. From my viewing of the discussion, I picked up unreasonable criticism of the system as well as far-reaching efforts to derail the project.

The Council of No

Masked as defenders of the public right-of-way, a subset of the council, which I like to call “The Council of No”, were pulling extreme edge cases here as reasons to not move forward. Rather than tailor the IKEs to something that satisfies council, some councilors were against the kiosks for reasons with little or no backing at all.

NOTE: Councilors Corey Branch and Dickie Thompson were not present.

Both Councilors Kay Crowder and Stef Mendell were concerned over the brightness of the kiosks. From the meeting discussion, Travis Crane, an Assistant Planning Director, called out the acceptable brightness levels in our city’s signage ordinance. Mr. Shermohammed confirmed that the kiosks were lower, operating similar to how a smartphone dims at night or in dark rooms.

Yet, the councilors were still concerned over brightness.

Map of potential locations for the kiosks

Map of potential locations for the kiosks.

Councilor Russ Stephenson compared the kiosks as “last-century technology” and wanted to see something more mobile, like for a smartphone. While I agree with Councilor Stephenson to a degree, he may be forgetting that we are surrounded by tried and true technology all around us. Why should the city adopt the latest and greatest at a high cost?

Better yet, what disadvantage do we have if the kiosks are deployed in addition to some new mobile tech? To be against the kiosks and pitch something else is a project-killing move from my point-of-view.

Councilor Stephenson’s data privacy concerns are also unfounded. He claims that Raleighites don’t want to be tracked or have data collected about them, even if it’s anonymous. He must not be aware of the dozens of pedestrian, biking, and traffic counters that have been deployed all over the city, collecting the same information that IKE would. This is a feature that could also be turned off if the city wanted it too.

Councilor Stewart, not a member of The Council of No, asked if any other cities are worried about the IKE’s screen brightness and it’s contribution to light pollution. Mr. Shermohammed says that no cities have raised issues with this.

Councilor Cox also tried to derail and discount the work of the DRA by lofting up a suggestion about Bluetooth beacon technology. The tech itself doesn’t matter but, as a city councilor, to have allowed the DRA to go forward with the kiosk project about a year ago and now suggest something completely different isn’t helpful for anyone and is borderline disrespectful.

It was clear to the Council of No that this effort would alter our sign ordinance and possibly allow even more signs that looked like a “bright” IKE kiosk in the future. This is precedent-setting moves and the Council of No always takes the unreasonably fights against projects like this rather than taking a collaborative, compromising approach.

While certainly not the biggest issue downtown Raleigh faces, I take issue with the treatment of this project because there are so many things this helps, so many angles that are covered here and yet we have councilors that can’t move things forward because of perceived negative outcomes and a perceived future that “looks like Las Vegas” as Councilor Crowder states.

It’s either close-minded thinking or some kind of inferiority complex at play here when smart people come forward and pitch new and exciting things to our city. The Council of No has been like this on a variety of topics over the past year and I fear it impacts when really creative efforts want to come forward. (or squashes them early on cause who wants to deal with that, right?)

In the end, the Council of No asked city staff to create a high-level list of what other cities are doing in terms of wayfinding, something the DRA has already done and chosen a solution for. This belittles their work, in my opinion, and am really questioning our councils commitment to downtown Raleigh.

Come chat about council’s support of downtown Raleigh on the Community.

Downtown Wayfinding Kiosks

If you can’t see the embedded video, click here.

During the November 8, 2017 city council meeting, city staff and the Downtown Raleigh Alliance gave a nice update on plans to bring interactive wayfinding kiosks to downtown Raleigh.

Negotiations are ongoing with Orange Barrel Media, producers of IKE, an “interactive kiosk experience” and if all goes well, the rollout of the system could take place in Spring 2018.

The presentation to council is embedded above for your viewing pleasure but some of the highlights include:

  • The kiosks may be between 7.5 to 12 feet tall
  • All kiosk designs can be customized
  • The kiosks can show general wayfinding to retail, transit and event info, and even art
  • No city funds to be used to implement or maintain this system
  • The kiosk vendor is responsible for maintenance
  • The DRA will provide the data however there will be national advertising
  • The ad policy will mimic the one currently in use for the GoRaleigh buses
  • 15 locations initially but want to ramp up to 25 down the road

Since downtown Raleigh doesn’t have a designated shopping street these kiosks can only help direct folks to the right places or even find ones they didn’t know about. With transit info alongside this information, it may make users aware of the system and consider an alternative method.

The kiosks may be outside as well as inside some locations including the convention center and union station. Other proposed locations include City Plaza, Moore Square, Seaboard Station, and Shaw.

Council approved the proposal and we just might see these pop up in 2018.

Hargett Street Retail Shakeups Announced

Future home of Father and Son on West Street

Future home of Father and Son on West Street

This week, a few bits of news came out related to the downtown Raleigh retail scene.

First, long-time favorite Father and Son will be moving from their spot on the 100 block of West Hargett Street to the Warehouse District. They’ll squeeze into the warehouse that used to have Flanders Gallery at 302 South West Street.

There was no announcement on when that move will take place but what a great bookend for Martin Street. The Dillon will provide some new retail space a block in front of it that also ties it to the storefronts down the street. Shopping will be possible from Nash Square all the way to Union Station.

Rendering of future home of Deco Raleigh on Salisbury Street

Rendering of future home of Deco Raleigh on Salisbury Street

The second announcement starts with Deco’s future home just down Salisbury Street. Deco and its counterpart Deco Home are combining into an even larger space (more than twice the size) that’s one building down from their current home in the Odd Fellows Building.

Their new home was the former NC State Bar, now over on Blount Street, and the shop will be on the Salisbury half of the building. According to the announcement, “the new space will be the largest footprint for an independent retailer downtown.”

With Deco now expanding after five years in operation, the store seems to be one of the leaders in downtown Raleigh. If it’s presence grows that may bring more retail to its former spaces and create a cluster along Salisbury and Hargett.

Future home of Deco Raleigh on Salisbury Street

Future home of Deco Raleigh on Salisbury Street

Finally, it may not be local retail but the long-rumored Publix was announced for the Smokey Hollow development, which is now called Peace by the way, over on the corner of Peace and West Street. This is the second grocery store announcement for the Peace Street corridor as Seaboard Station announced a Harris Teeter in July 2016.

I imagine it’s still years away from either one opening so let’s hope after all the Peace Street dust has settled that groceries will be flying all over the place in that area.