RALEIGH — It’s one of the quirkiest aspects of the city’s early growth: an island in the middle of Capital Boulevard that’s home to a scrappy assortment of longtime businesses – many of them built in a flood plain.
Just north of Wake Forest Road, Capital Boulevard’s north and southbound lanes split apart, surrounding about a dozen businesses and a polluted creek that often floods. Raleigh leaders want to turn much of the area into a park, and the plan got a big boost last week when the city council voted to accept $1.47 million in state and federal grant money.
The funding will allow the city to buy and demolish the Milner Inn, a one-story motel that’s also home to the Foxy Lady strip club. The Federal Emergency Management Agency provides the grants for flood-prone properties, because the frequent insurance claims tend to drive up rates. During major storms, motel guests have woken up to water in their rooms, damaging their belongings and the inn’s furniture.
The motel’s owners are willing to sell, and the grant money means the project won’t cost the city a dime.
But the demolition isn’t just about flood control. Raleigh leaders eventually plan to buy up and clear out all the property on Capital’s blighted island and turn the area into North Boulevard Park, with greenways connecting to nearby neighborhoods. The busy road’s split lanes would be brought together on the west side of the park.
Cleaning up gateway
It’s part of a plan approved last year to revamp Capital Boulevard from downtown to the Beltline, designed to make the city’s northern gateway more attractive and friendly to bikes and pedestrians. While the proposal keeps many of the industrial buildings in place along the roads, the businesses on the island aren’t on the future map.
“As you come in from the north, we are definitely not putting our best foot forward,” Councilman Randy Stagner said of the current look.
But with North Boulevard Park and the greenway many years away, the short-term goal of the Milner Inn demolition is flood and pollution control. “The flooding is the initial reason we went after the grant,” said Danny Bowden, an engineer with the city’s stormwater department.
That’s the same reason the city spent $1.1 million last year on the old AMF bowling alley next door. The building will come down in several months, Bowden said, with the motel to follow later this year.
When the buildings and parking lots become green space, water from Pigeon House Branch will have somewhere to go. The city will also have a chance to clean up the waterway, which is considered Raleigh’s most polluted stream.
“It’s a plus for appearance, it’s great for flood control, it’s great for the environment,” Stagner said.
Seeking more grants
Raleigh officials are also talking with the owners of the First Citizens Bank and Blue Tequila restaurant properties. The city hopes to get grant money to raze those too; otherwise, the process of buying up the Capital Boulevard island would cost an estimated $10.7 million. “Without the ability to leverage those state and federal dollars, the burden this would put on the citizens of Raleigh would slow the process almost to a stop,” Stagner said.
Business owners say they’re not tied to the area, which surrounding neighborhoods have called a “porn island” because of its strip clubs and adult video stores. Jim Lee has run a small jewelry store there for 37 years, but he said he’s open to selling.
“If they would help me get a place to go to, I would give it to them,” he said. “I’m not against working with the city if it wants the property.”
Bowden said the city aims to buy more properties along Capital before real-estate values go back up. For now, they’re not using eminent domain. “With the economy down, now is the time to do it,” he said.
Campbell: 919-829-4802 or twitter.com/RaleighReporter