Imagine driving up South Saunders Street and, as you close in on downtown Raleigh, being greeted by a shiny, new athletic stadium.
Imagine renting a bike from the city and riding it on a trail connecting downtown to the North Carolina Museum of Art, six miles away on Blue Ridge Road.
Downtown has no rivers or bodies of water of note. But what if you could live just one block from Glenwood South with a view of a creek?
There are no immediate plans to make an attraction of a long-hidden creek near Glenwood South, or to build a stadium or execute any of these ideas. But they’re among many the City Council would like to see come to fruition over the next 10 years.
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City leaders enter 2016 with a wish list for downtown Raleigh, which is detailed in a vision plan that the City Council approved in September.
The plan calls on city leaders to execute an array of public projects while offering the private sector a vision of how it should develop its land over the next decade. It aims to boost economic development, beautify the city and upgrade Raleigh’s road, sidewalk and trail networks. The goal is to improve connectivity and preserve Raleigh’s historic character.
There’s no funding associated with the plan (although the city launched some projects listed in the plan before it was approved.) And city leaders have limited say over how private land is developed. The plan isn’t a legally binding document.
Nonetheless, with the exception of Raleigh’s development code book, it’s one of the city’s most important documents. By laying out the vision of city leaders and the thousands of residents who helped craft the plan, it gives developers an idea of what city leaders want and offers property owners an expectation of what could be ahead.
“I like how it’s made downtown very livable and ties it together in a thoughtful way,” Mayor Nancy McFarlane said of the plan.
“We’d like to follow it as closely as we can, but we obviously can’t force someone to build something they don’t want to,” she said.
The plan organizes downtown into five areas, offering specific ideas for each location, but doesn’t address Dorothea Dix park. The council will create plans for it separately.
The gateway center
The gateway center, as the plan calls it, includes the first few blocks of land on the south side of downtown – home to the Convention Center, Red Hat Amphitheater and the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts. It’s where planners leaders see an opportunity for some of the biggest, boldest development downtown.
The plan calls for something transformational such as a large-scale sports facility, cultural facility, campus or hotels. The plan suggests Raleigh leaders launch a public-private partnership and give it the job of creating a plan for the mega-block between Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and South Street.
Among the smaller recommendations: allowing two-way traffic on Salisbury and Wilmington streets to bring more attention to the area.
The warehouse district
The warehouse district – generally considered to be the area bordered by Hillsborough Street to the north, Dawson Street to the east, Cabarrus Street to the south and the Boylan Heights neighborhood to the west – could grow faster than any other downtown corridor.
Development in the area was relatively dormant in the boom years prior to the recession. However, the recent additions of tech giant Citrix, incubator HQ Raleigh and the Contemporary Art Museum of Raleigh (CAM) have attracted more attention to downtown’s southwestern corner. And more is coming fast. A 17-story mixed-use tower is expected to open there in 2017. The city plans to open a landmark transit hub, Union Station, on the western end the same year.
The plans calls for the city to: Convert underused properties into pocket parks, renovate Nash Square, redevelop City Hall and establish design guidelines to preserve the area’s architectural character.
The city wants to revamp Moore Square and big changes are soon to come so long as Raleigh leaders implement a plan they approved in 2011, as the downtown vision suggests.
Moore Square, located east of downtown’s main corridor between Hargett and Martin streets, for years has been an undefined lawn where many visitors have complained about feeling unsafe. The city in 2014 borrowed $12.6 million to give it a facelift.
Design plans have yet to be approved. However, they include 40,000 square feet near Hargett and Blount for large performances, a plaza framed by low walls for seating about 500 people, spaces for vendors and performers, a cafe and a play area. Planners said recently they expect to begin construction this summer and complete it in summer 2017.
The city hopes further to improve the area by revitalizing City Market and allowing new, mixed-use development. It also wants to work with Shaw University to attract more trails on campus property south of Moore Square, redesign the Chavis greenway and renovate the Moore Square transit center.
Restaurants and bars continue to dominate Glenwood South, the downtown area’s first well-known district. That street is thriving and, other than sidewalk improvements, doesn’t need much help.
Glenwood’s neighboring streets, however, need big improvements in order to accommodate residential and commercial development that planners expect to come in the next few years.
The downtown plan calls for Raleigh to lure offices, apartments and stores to the area between West and Harrington streets. The plan suggests uncovering a long-hidden creek known as Pigeon House Branch, creating a natural urban park – Devereaux Meadows – around it and encouraging development on the perimeter.
“The daylighting of this forgotten urban stream will become the civic spine organizing future private development on the eastern side of the (Glenwood) district,” the plan reads.
Among other suggestions, the plan asks city leaders to consider connecting West Johnson Street, which runs east-to-west just south of Peace, to Harrington Street from where it dead-ends at West Street.
This area is bordered by Delway Street to the north, Lane Street to the south, Salisbury Street to the west and Person Street to the east. It’s home to Seaboard Station, William Peace University and several state government buildings and properties that may be redeveloped soon.
The plan calls for Raleigh to work in collaboration with Gov. Pat McCrory’s “Project Phoenix” to replace or overhaul some state buildings. McCrory has been an outspoken proponent of redevelopment in the area, saying in December that the State Records Building looks like “crap” and that he wants to demolish the Archdale Building highrise.
Raleigh’s vision for the area offers ideas too, such as building a rubber running track around the Halifax Mall – the grassy area behind the legislative building – to encourage greater public use. It calls for significant vehicular and bicycle upgrades to Peace Street, restoring two-way traffic on Jones and Lane streets and working with William Peace University on recruiting more local businesses to Seaboard Station.