A Walk Around the Char Grill Block

In June, the city’s neighborhood meeting calendar posted an update for a possible rezoning for properties along Hillsborough Street including the beloved local spot, Char Grill. The news picked it up. Comments were made. Opinions were everywhere.

To be clear, the rezoning request has not been submitted as of this writing but I want to mention two items right up front:

  • Char Grill owns their lot and plans to incorporate a Char Grill location in any new development
  • Comments from them suggest a thoughtful development with respect to any historic structures nearby

Instead of typing out comments online and looking at Google Maps (well I did some of that) it was time to get a steak junior and walk the block.

NOTE: I call it the “Char Grill Block” since that’s the most important thing there (let’s be honest) but not all properties are planned for a rezoning.

From the neighborhood meeting notes, the following properties seem to be targeted for rezoning. Char Grill is on the southern end about midway between Boylan and Glenwood.

Walk the Block

Let’s start with Char Grill and go clockwise around the map shown above. Since the rezoning application hasn’t been submitted yet, I’m also not going to get into possible heights and conditions today. Let’s just look at buildings.

Char Grill doesn’t need an introduction here. Open since 1959, the burger and fries spot has one of the best walk-up windows in downtown. It’s not exactly a drive-thru in the modern sense but plenty of space is given to parking also.

On the corner of Hillsborough and Boylan is a closed gas station. Built in 1952, it has gone through a variety of gas and car service brands. Today, it seems to be used for parking for nearby construction projects. When I was walking around, there is work going on for something in a retail space across the street at Bloc 83 and the workers were parking here.

Next is a gravel parking lot. Not much else to add here.

The environmental engineering firm Smith Gardner operates out of a few houses on this block also. Along Boylan, is this red brick house from 1910. Employees probably park in the adjacent lot.

At the corner of Boylan and Willard, we have Elmwood. Elmwood is a beautiful house from 1813 and is currently used as office space. Elmwood sits on the National Register of Historic Places. The side yard along Willard is a gravel parking lot.

Finally, there are two more 1910 homes along Willard being used as offices by Smith Gardner, shown above. Their backyards are basically gravel parking lots also. Turns out, all three houses that Smith Gardner is using is owned by the same company.

Speculation

No details are out there of what is going to be built, we’re not at that stage yet. I feel in the minority here as Elmwood, not Char Grill, is the property I’m most interested in with respect to any new developments. Of course, people are most distracted by the Char Grill being demolished, the youngest building mentioned in this post, but I’m in the camp that honestly thinks they could use an upgrade. (or at least a serious power wash)

For me, Char Grill’s walk-up window is fantastic. If the new development can get a Char Grill in there with an active walk-up window, some outdoor tables, and indoor seating like their newer locations, it’ll still be a hit.

Focusing on the older homes behind Char Grill, you can’t help admit that there is a lot of gravel parking spaces that could be used more efficiently. The brick building at 14 North Boylan could be moved to sit on Elmwood’s gravel lot. If you do that, you square up a nice property for some taller development. It could look something like this.

Again, just speculation but the houses can be saved and the red square in my sketch up here can be developed. If the houses continue to be office space, parking can be tucked inside the new development.

We’ll get back to this once the rezoning is submitted and discussion by planning commission and city council takes place. Until then, keep eating steak juniors.

The State of Hillsborough St.

Hillsborough St. gets my vote as being one of the most important streets for downtown. From the Capitol building out to Glenwood, the first six blocks will be a major route that connects Glenwood South and Fayetteville St. The zig zag route should become the spine of activity for downtown. It is pretty clear that Fayetteville St. and Glenwood South are already budding entertainment centers but Hillsborough St. is on the rise.

What Is Planned
The weak economy and I’m sure a couple other factors have held back some of these projects and they are currently on standby. It is still a bit exciting to see these proposals because if all are eventually built, Hillsborough St will be its own urban corridor.

Winston Hotel Tower

A 25 story hotel and condo tower will occupy the block shown above.

The Hillsborough

Another 25 story hotel and condo tower. It is currently on hold because of the bad credit market.

Campbell Law School Relocation

Classes should start in summer 2009. I think this a key move that should create traffic on Hillsborough St. I’m worried though because there is a serious lack of rentable apartments nearby and students will be prime renters.

HBS Properties Tower

HBS Properties has bought up a majority of this block. Last I heard, they were floating around the idea of a 10 story tower that would wipe out this streetscape.

The Potential

There are a couple of empty lots and surface parking lots that are in prime locations. There may be controversy in the future over established churches and businesses versus developers willing to offer big money for these lots. However, we are still not there yet so let’s save that argument for later.

I see this stretch of Hillsborough St. becoming a hotel row. Two hotels are in the list above and The Clarion is already in service in this location. This is a central, easy to get to area and with a wider street, it is car traffic friendly. It connects our two major entertainment centers and any visitor has an easy walk to either one.

I also think that the triangle near the Hillsborough/Edenton merge could be something really unique for downtown. I had an idea once.

Hillsborough St. Gets Taller

I realized something yesterday as I was driving home on capital into downtown. There is no real skyline that greets you as you drive in on southbound capital blvd. The newly finished Quorum Center is up which is a plus and later on next year we’ll have the West at North condo tower over in Glenwood South but there are no significantly tall buildings close by and its hard to see the cluster of towers over on Fayetteville St. I realized that I was not thinking too deeply and all that will change in the coming years.

A new 32 story tower will be built on the Dawson/Morgan/Hillsborough block. It’s across the street from The Dawson, behind The Flying Saucer, and across the street from the Clarion Hotel. This tower will add to that northern skyline that I was talking about. I like the placement of the building because it helps to connect the areas of downtown better. If more density grows around it, it will create a lively scene from Fayetteville St. all the way to Glenwood.

The current residence at the site, set to be demolished this summer

The tower does not have an official name so everyone calls it the Reynolds tower. This is because the father and son developers, Ted and David Reynolds, are behind it. They were also behind the Quorum Center, so they have strong Raleigh ties.

The tower is mixed use with 133 hotel rooms, 25 condos, office space, and ground floor retail (3 shops to be exact). No word on the brand of hotel in the building or plans for the stores on the ground. There will also be a 5 story parking deck right up next to the building.

I really like this building and I think it is the one that I am most excited about. Now that the ball is rolling, this project will move fast. It has been an almost 5 year struggle for the Reynolds to land the property and get all the paperwork figured out. I believe because of the need for the office space by the city, the tower’s construction is on a tight schedule. We can all expect this building to be completed no later than July 2009!

N&O Article


the Clarion hotel won’t be the tallest in the area pretty soon


32 stories on the left, with a 5 story deck on the right


enjoy it while it lasts