Browsing Through The Latest Civic Campus Master Plan

The city has posted the latest version of the master plan for the downtown civic campus. This would involve a significant update to the municipal buildings to the north of Nash Square. Over time, it’s possible that the existing buildings will all be demolished and up to 20-story towers for city workers will be built on this block.

Jump into the plan (pdf doc) here on the city’s website.

The Avery C. Upchurch block, or municipal block as I’m calling it, consists of the former Raleigh Police Headquarters building, the Raleigh municipal building (RMB) currently in use, and a 3-story parking deck. The police HQ is currently vacant and we’ve outgrown the RMB to the point where extensive maintenance is needed in the next few years.

From the executive summary in the master plan:

The future Raleigh Civic Campus will be a mixed-use, walkable destination consisting of a New City Hall with public-facing government functions, expanded municipal departmental space, and pedestrian-connected public spaces. Other land uses may be arranged around the campus, including urban retail, commercial office, housing, and a combination of below-grade and structured parking. The total potential of the Civic Campus is approximately 2.2 million gross square feet, excluding underground parking and services. The full build-out of the campus is dependent upon the execution of several capital projects over three phases and employing a suite of delivery methods, including City-owned and managed development, private capital-led development, and potentially a collaborative public-private partnership.

The full implementation of the campus will take place over 3 phases, generally broken down into these projects:

  • Phase 1 – The East Building: Demolish the Police HQ and build a 20-story office tower for approximately 1,400 staff, public-facing functions, and Council Chambers, as well as potential ground floor retail.
  • Phase 2 – The West Building: Demolish the RMB and tentatively plan for an up to 20-story office tower, the twin to the East Building. A public plaza between the two towers will tie the two sites together.
  • Phase 3 – Mixed-Use Development: Demolish the municipal parking deck and allow for up to 20-story private development.

The additional space on this campus will be for current workers who are spread across downtown as well as new hires in the future. The civic campus aims to consolidate offices and bring together departments as a way to make the campus more secure and more customer-friendly in a cost-conscious manner.

The master plan lays out the costs of doing nothing and just maintaining buildings and the difference is in the tens of millions of dollars. See page 18 for more details.

As each department continues to grow, accommodation of the City’s expanding workforce in an organized and fiscally responsible manner will become increasingly difficult. City staff has conservatively estimated the need to invest more than $245 Million (in today’s dollars) over the next 30 years just to maintain the status quo.

The master plan really focuses on delivering the needs of the city for the next 30-40 years between these two towers, the East Building, and West Building. (Phases 1 and 2) Mixed-use development through collaboration with a private developer for phase 3 isn’t quite set in stone, which makes sense. It’s a good opportunity to provide something that’s needed on the northern end of the block such as housing or hospitality but those needs haven’t been identified just yet.

There’s plenty of opportunities to build as the entire block is zoned DX-20-SH, or downtown mixed-use with a 20-story height limit, shopfront design. This is significantly mroe dense than what we have today.

With a much larger presence here on the municipal block, the civic campus becomes a destination and should help connect downtown districts. This is touched on more in the master plan where the design team has thought about connecting it along the east-west streets of Morgan and Hargett from the Warehouse District to Fayetteville Street. Nash Square should not feel isolated from the campus but rather become an extension.

This makes pedestrians number one along Hargett Street and the public plaza must emphasize that. Taking cues from the 2015 Downtown Plan, this vision supports Hargett Street having an attractive and livelier streetscape.

The master plan continues with details about a central gathering space and plaza within the site and possible uses for the mixed-use portion on the northern half. The examples from other cities are helpful in visualizing what is possible so I encourage readers to check it out.

I’m very happy with what’s in this master plan and feel it’s got all the right elements put together for this area. In my opinion, some points really need to be hammered home once the city gets into the details. I would want to really emphasize the need to make the municipal buildings along Hargett welcoming and engaged with the sidewalk rather than being stale, public buildings.

The SECU tower is a good example of how a modern tower can engage the sidewalk, provide outdoor spaces for gathering and mix it with retail. (if they had any so I have to pretend) The county’s justice center seems to have missed the mark with their monolithic presence along Martin Street and their foreboding main entrance along Salisbury. (I love the art deco look from afar though)

I’d love to see Hargett Street get the “City Plaza” treatment. Between the East and West buildings and Nash Square, let’s create an even street separated with bollards (trees?) where pedestrians and vehicles are on an equal plane. Transparency through the ground-floor of these sites all the way to Nash Square might just give you that park-like feeling even if you’re a block away.

Retail spaces along Hargett should be plentiful since there is only space on one side. I’d like to see the city take a less traditional approach to it also. For example, businesses may not be clamoring for space here right away so as spaces are empty, pop-up concepts should be welcomed. That approach can help new businesses kickstart themselves and down the road, move on to a more established home nearby or elsewhere in Raleigh.

With phase 3 being so far out, it’s probably best to comment on that piece down the road. This project will be fun to watch and I’m hoping for something that Raleigh can be proud of.

Options on the Table For New City Hall Tower

Raleigh Municipal Building. June 2018.

Raleigh Municipal Building. June 2018.

During a March 27, 2018 meeting of the Economic Development and Innovation (EDI) Committee, there were some good details discussed over the future Civic Campus Master Plan. I wanted to bring out some details from the meeting minutes here today.

You can watch the video of the meeting on YouTube here or embedded below.

To quickly recap, the city is currently working on a master plan to possibly redevelop city hall as well as offload various city-owned property in and around downtown Raleigh. The point would be to consolidate the downtown workforce as well as expand for projected growth. The epicenter of the project would be on the block consisting of the Raleigh Municipal Building (RMB) and former police headquarters. (Basically the Avery C. Upchurch Municipal block)

You can dive straight into the minutes here. Some additional relevant reading:

First, let’s take a look at the municipal block today. There are three main structures:

  1. Fomer Raleigh Police Headquarters, currently empty
  2. Raleigh Municpal Building with offices and City Council Chambers
  3. A parking deck

With the city owning the entire block, it’s basically agreed that the new campus will consist of new development there.

The civic campus is assumed to include the following departments:

  • Services in the newly-formed Departments of Transportation and Engineering Services
  • Development-related functions, including the Departments of City Planning, Development Services, and the Office of Economic Development
  • Housing and Neighborhoods and some staff from Public Utilities Department
  • Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Resources administration
  • Public Affairs
  • Internal service functions, including Information Technology, Human Resources, Finance, and Budget and Management Services
  • Management departments including the City Manager’s Office, City Attorney, and City Clerk

With internal conversations and surveys, the consultants found that a conservative 1.5% city staff growth rate would be appropriate to ensure that any new buildings would be useful for 30 to 50 years after being built.

But before we get into what can be built, the “do nothing” scenario was considered. The cost to maintain current buildings and continue to lease space as growth is needed over the next 30 years will cost around $200 million dollars. $80 million would go towards maintenance of current facilities with an estimated $120-160 million going towards leasing space.

The Build Scenarios

Buiding a new tower presents a few options that allow the city to be more flexible in the future.

With the RMB offering some flexibility, it would be possible to extend the life of that building while still putting downtown workers into a new one. There are three scenarios on the table. (emphasis is mine)

Option #1: 20 stories (above capacity)

  • 420,000 s.f.
  • Capacity*(at 300 gsf/person): 1,400 ppl
  • Full capacity by 2037 (14 years) at 1.5% growth rate
  • Full capacity by 2032 at (9 years) at 2.0% growth rate
  • Estimated cost: ~$190 million
  • Effective rent over 30 years: $15.08/sf
  • RMB can be vacated

Option #2: 17 stories +/- (at capacity)

  • 360,000 s.f.
  • Capacity* (at 300 gsf/person): 1,200 ppl
  • Full capacity by 2027 (4 years) at 1.5% growth rate
  • Full capacity by 2024 (1 year) at 2.0% growth rate
  • Estimated cost: ~$165 million
  • Effective rent over 30 years: $15.27/sf
  • RMB can be vacated

Option #3: 14 stories +/- (below capacity)

  • 300,000 s.f.
  • Capacity* (at 300 gsf/person): 1,000 ppl
  • 40,000 s.f. deficit at move-in with 1.5% growth rate
  • 50,000 s.f. deficit at move-in with 2.0% growth rate
  • Estimated Cost: ~$140 million
  • Effective rent over 30 years: $15.55/sf
  • *Capacity does not include Phase II (RMB or new facility).

Options 1 and 2 allow the RMB to be vacated and therefore, avoid maintenance and upfit costs. If option 3 is pursued, then outside space will still be needed whether it is within the RMB or elsewhere. RMB then presents a $40M renovation cost.

That’s as far into the details as I’d like to get into it, please take a look at the minutes and watch the video if you want more. I’m sure this will be an ongoing discussion within the EDI committee.

It’ll be interesting to see where they go with these options but either way, the options to build a new consolidated tower sound like a cost-effective option compared to leasing space across downtown Raleigh.

Join the discussion about the Civic Campus Master Plan on our DTRaleigh Community.

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.