Raleigh Beach? Not yet, but the website looks inviting

ccampbell@newsobserver.comApril 25, 2013 

An artist's rendering of "Raleigh Beach" displayed on a chain-link fence at a West Hargett Street vacant lot in Raleigh. This same rendering appears on the Raleigh Beach website.

COURTESY OF MATT TOMASULO

— Wednesday’s weather was warm enough to prompt dreams of the beach, and a mysterious website that appeared around lunchtime promised sandy fun closer to home.

Plans for the “Raleigh Beach” made waves on social media, as hundreds shared a webpage that offered “a pop-up oasis to beat the heat ... coming this summer on West Hargett Street” on the west side of downtown.

The Raleigh Beach website, raleighbeach.tumblr.com – along with connected Twitter and Facebook pages – showed an elaborate artist’s rendering of sand, pools and sunbathers at a vacant industrial lot on Hargett Street in the Warehouse District. The rendering also appeared on a sign at the site, tacked to a chain-link fence.

Within hours, the “beach” had hundreds of followers on Twitter and Facebook, eliciting a range of opinions. Some were thrilled about playing in the sand downtown. “I am really excited about your pending existence,” one woman tweeted.

Others thought the site was fake, and plenty of critics emerged. “You know who makes pretend beaches in their front yards? Hillbillies,” tweeted one skeptic.

By late afternoon, the man behind the website and sign emerged: Matt Tomasulo, the man behind the Walk Raleigh “guerilla wayfinding” signs that appeared last year. Those signs, zip-tied to utility poles without city permission, encouraged pedestrians with messages like “it’s an 18-minute walk to Chavis Park.”

Tomasulo admits he’s got no claim on the Hargett Street property. He says the goal is to get people talking about how to transform vacant real estate with temporary uses that benefit the community.

“I work and live close by and saw an incredible opportunity based off of a lot of other fun, family civic pop-up events that happen in other cities,” Tomasulo said. “It’s just a basic gesture to start a conversation.”

Tomasulo says that social media support could lead to a dialogue with the property owner, a limited liability corporation called 607 West Morgan Street.. He added that he’s gotten plenty of interest in sponsoring an urban beach in Raleigh. “Very easily, it could be transformed into a nice temporary asset for downtown in the summer,” he said.

And whether or not sand gets trucked down Hargett Street, Tomasulo’s ideas are known for gaining traction. The Walk Raleigh signs have led to a full-time Walk Your City business marketing the idea to communities nationwide.

Pop-up city beaches might just be the next trend to go viral.

Campbell: 919-829-4802 or twitter.com/RaleighReporter

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