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.

New Upfit Activities in the Moore Square Historic District

Rendering for new storefront at 211 South Wilmington

Rendering for new storefront at 211 South Wilmington

There’s work taking place in the Moore Square Historic District that may see new life in older buildings.

Currently under review by the Raleigh Historic Development Commission is a new storefront for 211 South Wilmington. The building will be upfit with a new storefront that aims to maintain the scale of the district but with modern character. The plans, 128-17-CA, mention a two-story noodle bar for this space.

With the building being in a historic district yet featuring no major architectural features (from my unskilled eye anyway) I can’t see any major controversy here.

For reference, here are the row of buildings today.

211 South Wilmington, September 2017

211 South Wilmington, September 2017

It’s a shame that 211 South Wilmington didn’t maintain its facade from the 1960s. The story of this building and the tenants that have cycled through would make a great follow-up.

211 South Wilmington, early 1960s

Around the corner at 107 East Martin, could something finally be moving in? This spot has been an empty shell since Raleigh Printing closed. (moved?) If anyone can remember when that happened, let me know but I want to say it was at least 10 years ago.

107 East Martin Street, September 2017

I’m happy to see some of the older buildings getting new life as these add diversity to our urban environment and play a huge role in keeping downtown more interesting.

Pic of the Week

Oak City Market House of Fresh

The convenience store king of downtown Raleigh, Taz, has opened up Oak City Market House of Fresh in the Skyhouse tower. The shop is part deli, part grocer with a wide selection of produce, meats, and other essentials. What I like about this one is that the items are packed in there, as an urban store should be.

When you couple this up with DGX Raleigh nearby, you have some pretty convenient options along Blount Street.

A Peek Inside Google Fiber’s New Shop in Glenwood South

Email readers: This blog post has a virtual reality image. Read the post on the blog to see it.

I recently had a meeting that was held over at Google’s new shop on Glenwood and took a VR photo inside the new space for the blog. There’s a lot of hype about this new space with lines around the block to get in on First Fridays, tons of curious visitors, and even some getting their wedding photos taken inside.

Personally, I don’t get the hype but as an event space, it does look quite well done for a store that has no physical products to walk out with.

Dollar General Express Now Open in Downtown Raleigh

Dollar General Express

Email readers: This blog post has a virtual reality image. Read the post on the blog to see it.

A new concept for the company, this store, Dollar General Express, is now open in The Edison Lofts at the corner of Davie and Blount Streets. The store contains more convenience items rather than cheaper home goods like the larger stores. It’s actually a decent convenience store with some grocery items.

High-end, gourmet retail is nice but sometimes, you just need the quick and easy. From a resident’s point-of-view, I welcome the new store and hope it succeeds.

Dollar General Express

The Citrix Opening and More Warehouse District Retail Space

The Citrix Raleigh site at the corner of Hargett and West Streets

Over the last few months, the polish has wrapped up on the new Citrix office site along West Street and today employees are moved in. In case you haven’t seen them, there are some fantastic photos of the new complex up on the company’s Flickr page that you should take a look at.

The opening was big with a lot of media coverage. The mayor, the governor, and other VIPs were all at the official opening. The politicians and the city love this stuff and used it in a well-made video to promote Raleigh and Citrix. I have it embedded below for viewing or you can see it directly on YouTube here.

A company and city on the rise: Citrix moves to downtown Raleigh on YouTube

Now that we’re rolling here let’s take a look at the site.

To a degree, the office portion of the Citrix complex is not mixed-use with the building being purely dedicated to employees. However, if you zoom out that is kind of how the warehouse district is made up these days.

Davie Street contains a mix of restaurants and bars and probably has the most activity but besides the mixed-use nature of The Hue apartments, the single-purpose warehouses and buildings are just that. The future of the district’s urbanity is still uncertain.

The Citrix parking deck does contain some retail spaces along the length of Morgan Street. Walking by, there is a lot of space here and a huge amount of sidewalk in front. I would imagine that this will open the parking deck for visitors who want to go here and will create a more mixed-use environment.

Citrix Parking Deck retail spaces

Citrix Parking Deck retail spaces

Citrix Parking Deck retail spaces

If you go look, you can see that there is plenty of space for all kinds of uses here. The space even has west facing windows overlooking the railroad tracks.

Weekend days and weekday nights are still pretty calm for the warehouse district so my guess is that these retails spaces may sit empty for awhile. However, if the politicians and media are to be believed and Citrix is the great catalyst that we’ve been waiting for, then I hope that I am wrong.