The Downtown Raleigh Alliance recently launched a pilot program to invigorate two public spaces in downtown Raleigh.
“Program Our Plazas,” an initiative running from Oct. 5 through the end of the year, aims to facilitate events of all kinds in Market and Exchange Plazas, two public corridors connecting Fayetteville Street to Wilmington Street.
“We want to help bring activity to these downtown spaces,” said Craig Reed, director of events at the Alliance. “Not much has happened here yet. They’re a blank slate.”
People can apply to hold events in the plazas on Wednesdays at Market Plaza from 5 to 8 p.m. and on Fridays at Exchange Plaza from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., free of charge. Events should be “creative, interactive and educational,” Reed said.
Potential events include concerts, drama performances, fitness classes and pop-up markets.
“We want diversity,” Reed said. “We’re open to many different disciplines.”
On October 14, trainers from Hayes Barton CrossFit, a crossfit location on Fairview Road in Five Points, lead three free yoga classes at Exchange Plaza. Cold Off the Press, a juice bar with locations in Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill, provided fresh juice during the event.
“It’s good exposure,” said owner Andrew Pace, who opened the CrossFit location about a month ago. “It’s a great advertising opportunity for a small business.”
The turnout was low, but as awareness of the program grows, Pace is confident that more people will attend events.
“It’s a great program,” Pace said. “I will definitely do (more events) again.”
To apply, people must fill out a form online, which includes a description of the proposed event and the event’s objective or mission, and submit it to Reed via email. A committee of downtown residents then reviews and approves the application.
Since the program launched, they’ve received about 20 applications, Reed said.
To help vendors afford to put on events, the Alliance partnered with Flight Raleigh and First Citizens Bank to offer 14 grants for up to $250 each. Grant recipients must provide receipts and proof for reimbursement.
“We want to help young businesses and entrepreneurs that want exposure,” Reed said.
The plazas were originally designed as side streets in the 1960s, but in 1965 Raleigh closed the area to vehicles. The plazas served as a sort of test run for the city’s decision to build Fayetteville Street Mall in the 1970s. In 2006, Fayetteville Street reopened to traffic.
In 2013, the city decided to give the little-used plazas a $1.2 million makeover to optimize them for small events and outdoor markets. The plazas reopened to the public in April with five times the walkable space, and included benches, new lighting and vegetation.
Despite the overhaul, the spaces have failed to draw foot traffic. After meeting with Mayor Nancy McFarlane and the Raleigh City Council, the Alliance was tasked with implementing a strategy to increase the public’s use of the plazas. Next year, the Alliance and city will reconvene to discuss the program’s results.
“We hope that the program inspires more activity, community involvement and better use of the city’s public spaces,” Reed said.
Madison Iszler: 919-836-4952; @madisoniszler