Crews are tearing down city-owned buildings along Capital Boulevard, the first step in a plan to create a park and greenway on the northern end of downtown Raleigh.
The demolition is part of the state’s $36.9 million, three-year project to replace the Wade Avenue bridge over Capital Boulevard and the Capital bridge over Peace Street. It’s also part of Raleigh’s plans to create a nicer-looking gateway into downtown from the north.
Raleigh wants to convert a 14-acre site at Capital and Peace that was most recently used to store city vehicles and road salt into Devereux Meadow Park. Plans are getting started as developers continue to look to the area for growth – apartments and retail space are planned for Peace and West streets, across from the park site.
“We want the park to be a very comfortable, safe place where people can come and feel at one with nature and still be close to the city,” said Kris Morley-Nikfar, a greenway planner for Raleigh.
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The property floods when rainwater spills out of Pigeon House Branch, a creek that starts in Cameron Village, runs under West Street and follows Capital Boulevard. So the city wants to create a “passive park” – green space that won’t feature many amenities such as ball fields.
Plans call for a 2.6-mile greenway that would follow Pigeon House Branch from Peace Street northeast to the Crabtree Creek trail. Crews will likely uncover part of the stream that is buried.
Work on the project can’t begin until the Department of Transportation finishes its construction in 2019, Morley-Nikfar said. The city has $2 million set aside for the project, but more will be needed.
“It’s definitely going to take more than that to get it to the park we want it to be,” Morley-Nikfar said.
The site, reportedly where businessman Thomas Briggs hid his gold from advancing Union troops during the Civil War, has a long history of serving as recreation space. The Devereux Meadow baseball park opened there in 1938 and was home to the Raleigh Capitals. Broughton High School’s football team also played there for a while.
For the past several decades, the property housed a service station where the city’s vehicles were repaired, said Billy Jackson, assistant director of engineering services for Raleigh. It also has a large barn that stored salt used to treat roads during icy weather.
Raleigh moved its vehicle fleet to sites on Raleigh Boulevard and Burwell Street, farther from the city’s core. Salt is now stored at a facility on Operations Way northeast of downtown and also on Mount Herman Road in northwest Raleigh.
Jackson said the buildings being torn down are obsolete, and it made sense to move the services elsewhere in response to the city’s growth.
“We knew this was coming, and we pre-planned,” he said.
Eventually, the state will also tear down the city-owned building at 400 W. Peace St. About 45 employees, including a team that cleans downtown sites and another team that mows highways, are based there.
The building is across the street from the former Finch’s Restaurant, which dated back to the 1940s and was demolished earlier this year as part of the state project.
For the next eight months or so, the city will lead an environmental analysis of the entire Devereux Meadow site, Morley-Nikfar said. There might be some contamination from an old gas station and a dry-cleaning business nearby.
Workers will also consider ways to restore Pigeon House Branch, considered one of the city’s dirtiest creeks. It drains much of northern downtown, where most of the surface space is paved or developed, and pollutants like sediment and nitrogen rush to the creek.
After the analysis, consultants will come up with some design options for the park, Morley-Nikfar said. Residents will be able to share their thoughts and offer feedback during public meetings.
It’s important for Raleigh to create spaces near downtown where people can eat lunch outdoors or go for a walk, said Carla Delcambre, director of the graduate program at N.C. State University’s landscape architecture department. A few years ago, her students spent a semester studying Devereux Meadow and Dix Park, a 306-acre site off of Western Boulevard.
Students studied the possibility of using Pigeon House Branch as a way to make Devereux Meadow more enticing, Delcambre said. Bodies of water can help create attractive places where people want to hang out.
“Even if it’s a small creek, it’s still water,” she said. “The city of Raleigh is filled with all these little creeks everywhere.”
A new greenway will provide an easier way for some people to bike downtown to work, Delcambre said, which is important as the city grows.
For years, Raleigh’s expansive greenway system focused on recreation, Morley-Nikfar said. Now the city is focusing more on building trails downtown to accommodate alternative forms of transportation.
Plans are also in the works to build a walking and biking path to connect downtown Raleigh to Dix Park.