RALEIGH — An effort to reshape perceptions of Southwest Raleigh – and ultimately, attract more investment and high-quality growth – kicks off this week after more than a year of preparation.
The initiative seeks to brand the area as Raleigh’s “creative district.” It’s a joint undertaking led by City Councilman Thomas Crowder, N.C. State University leaders and advocates who say their area doesn’t get the respect it deserves.
As home to a major research campus and several sports and cultural venues, Southwest Raleigh should be known as a cutting-edge section of the city, supporters say.
But drive a short distance from downtown and N.C. State University, and the roads are lined with business corridors that have seen little new investment for decades.
Diverse and growing
As much as anything, Southwest Raleigh needs to do a better job of promoting its unique attributes and “re-educating the real estate community,” says Crowder, an architect who has represented the area, part of District D, since 2003.
“When you look at Southwest Raleigh, it has a very rich history, and it’s an extremely diverse community,” he said. “We want to make sure moving forward that we maintain that diversity, but also expand it.”
When visitors take a closer look, they can find natural spaces and walkable neighborhoods, says Jason Hibbets, a Red Hat employee who lives in the Lineberry area off Lake Wheeler Road.
“They’re kind of off the beaten path,” Hibbets said. “There are so many cool little pocket parks that some folks don’t know about, and that they discover after they move into the neighborhood.”
“When they hear Southwest Raleigh, they automatically think N.C. State” instead of other destinations in the district, Hibbets added.
Southwest Raleigh was home to some of the city’s first inner-ring suburbs to spring up after World War II. In later decades, growth shifted to North Raleigh and Cary, leaving older developments and shopping centers that could not compete with their newer counterparts.
While commercial activity has languished, people have not stopped flowing in.
Between 1990 and 2010, the area’s population grew by about 53 percent to 95,413 residents, census figures show.
Southwest Raleigh is a popular landing spot not only for students but also young graduates and N.C. State staff members. The median age is 29, and “white-collar” workers make up 71 percent of the population.
In June 2011, the City Council set aside $150,000 to fund Crowder’s plan for a two-year branding and economic development study.
The project will seek opinions on how residents, business owners, real estate agents, developers, investors and people around the Triangle perceive the area’s future.
The idea is to understand the range of perceptions and come up with a vision for how the area should evolve, said Art Rice, a landscape architecture professor and associate dean in N.C. State’s College of Design.
“If the whole time that you see Southwest Raleigh is zooming through on Western Boulevard, that’s what you’re going to think the whole thing is like,” Rice said.
“There are some wonderful residential communities that I didn’t know existed. There are lots of connections to parks and greenways. It’s a lot easier to get to and from the fairgrounds and art museum than we think.”
N.C. State, which is a partner in the study, wants to connect its growing Centennial Campus with the surroundings.
The 1,120-acre campus has a business park feeling, but new projects will add more attractions and amenities, including student housing, shopping, restaurants and two kinds of golf courses (traditional and disc).
Hibbets and neighbors want to gain recognition for the art galleries, museums and parks they say create a unique vibe.
“We’ve got professors and staff who work at N.C. State,” he said. “They’re seeing the benefits of living closer to their work.”