Amir Sadeghi looked out the window of his juice bar, Cold off the Press, and marveled at the lack of a construction zone on Exchange Plaza.
“Just with that fence away, man, it feels totally different,” said Sadeghi, the bar’s owner.
After about a year of construction, crews on Tuesday put finishing touches on the overhaul of the Exchange and Market plazas, which connect Fayetteville and Wilmington streets for pedestrians.
Raleigh will celebrate the completion of the $1.2 million project from 1 to 3 p.m. Wednesday. Mayor Nancy McFarlane will speak, and there will be music, food and vendors – a glimpse into the plazas’ potential as public-event space.
The plazas now have five times the walkable space, and they feature benches, new lighting, large planters and vegetation. Groups and businesses can rent the spaces for concerts or other events.
Sadeghi said his business, which sells juices and supplements, might host group yoga in Exchange Plaza.
“We’re going to do our best to utilize this open space,” he said. “We want to try and create an environment where you can hang out.”
Business owners such as Sadeghi hope the remodeled plazas will increase visibility and foot traffic. His father owns the nearby Bolt Bistro.
“We’ve been in a place where I’ll get phone calls daily asking me, ‘Where are you, where are you located?’ ” he said.
The plazas were originally designed as side streets, but Raleigh closed the areas to vehicles in 1965. They were a sort of precursor to the city’s decision to turn Fayetteville Street into a pedestrian mall in the 1970s.
Fayetteville Street reopened to traffic in 2006.
Now, city planners hope the improved plazas will help people navigate downtown more easily. They connect the Moore Square Transit Station to the Fayetteville Street corridor. Raleigh is spending $9.7 million to renovate the transit station, which was built in 1988.
“There’s more space to walk through now, and you can now see through the plazas much better now,” said Kelly Ham, a project engineer for the city.
Raleigh artists Matt McConnell and David McConnell, who are not related, were selected to incorporate designs that abstractly depict the landscape into railings, planters and other aspects of the plazas.
This summer, large-scale video art will be projected on a wall in Market Plaza at night.
“Art is really something that people are interested in, and I think it’s a good way to get people connected,” Ham said.
Chris Cioffi: 919-829-4802; @ReporterCioffi
If you go
A ribbon-cutting ceremony will begin at 2 p.m. Wednesday at Exchange Plaza, 219 Fayetteville St. The Downtown Raleigh Alliance will feature food, music and crafts from 1 to 3 p.m. in Market Plaza, between 227 and 239 Fayetteville St.