Residents and visitors of downtown Raleigh have more options these days for dining, shopping and living, and more changes are likely on the way.
A “State of Downtown Raleigh” report released Tuesday describes an area on the verge of an economic boom.
Downtown’s rapidly growing population is fueling a surging retail and food industry in downtown Raleigh, according to the report by the Downtown Raleigh Alliance, a nonprofit that promotes downtown.
The addition of major projects are likely to encourage more economic development in the coming years, according to Orage Quarles III, interim president and CEO of the group.
“Downtown is currently in the midst of a $1.75 billion pipeline of investment, which includes 3,672 residential units, more than 1,000 new hotel rooms and 346,000 square feet of new retail space,” said Quarles, who worked as publisher of The News & Observer for 16 years before retiring last year.
The report touts as successes a new downtown bicycle rental program as well as county voters’ approval of the Wake Transit Plan, which seeks to improve bus and train service in downtown Raleigh and beyond.
For the next big transformational developments, visitors should look to downtown’s Warehouse District. That’s where developers plan to complete Union Station, a transit hub, and The Dillon, a 17-story tower, in the next year or so. Here’s a snapshot of the report.
The population of downtown Raleigh is about 8,200. That’s up from 6,000 in 2014.
Glenwood South houses 36 percent of the downtown population, while the Warehouse District has 9 percent.
The value of land in downtown Raleigh rose 106 percent between 2008 and 2016, according to the Wake County tax assessor’s office. Despite the rise, the median apartment rent per square foot in downtown Raleigh – about $1.70 – remains lower than in downtown Orlando, Charlotte, Nashville and Austin.
In Raleigh, urban dwellers can expect to pay about $1,530 for a 900-square-foot downtown apartment.
More than 45,000 people work in downtown Raleigh, an increase of 19 percent in the last seven years. The Downtown Raleigh Alliance expects the area to add 11,500 more employees before 2030.
Tech companies added 2,500 employees in downtown Raleigh over the last five years, and Citrix plans to add another 400 “in the near future,” according to the report. HQ Raleigh, a co-working space, is home to more than 130 of Raleigh’s start-up companies and plans to add more than 40,000 square feet of space in the next few months.
The workforce is pretty smart: Downtown has a higher share of residents with bachelor’s and graduate degrees than the state and national figures. Nearly 50 percent of downtown Raleigh residents 25 and older have a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to 28 percent of North Carolinians and 30 percent of Americans.
Sixteen new stores opened downtown in 2016, building upon the retail industry’s momentum since the end of the recession.
Downtown’s retail base has grown 28 percent since 2010. That’s more than the dining base, which grew 24 percent, and the bar industry, which grew 21 percent.
Emerging retail themes include home furnishings, local gifts, fashion and everyday needs. Ninety-six percent of the stores in downtown Raleigh are locally owned, the DRA report says.
In 2016, 25 new restaurants opened while food and drink sales in downtown Raleigh topped $200 million for the first time ever.
Downtown Raleigh is home to chefs – Ashley Christensen (Death and Taxes), Scott Crawford (Crawford and Son) and Cheetie Kumar (Garland) – who have been nominated 10 times for the James Beard Award since 2010. The awards are considered the Oscars of the culinary world.
More than 75 downtown establishments now feature outdoor dining either on their own private space or on the public sidewalk.
More than 208,700 people attended the 2016 IBMA World of Bluegrass Festival downtown, which the Downtown Raleigh Alliance said was the largest event in Raleigh’s history.
The Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitors Bureau estimates the festival generated $10.8 million in direct visitor spending, $1.3 million in media value from NBC’s “Today” broadcast with Al Roker, as well as 92,000 attendees from outside Wake County.
There are 1,072 hotel rooms downtown and their occupancy rate last year was 71 percent, up 11 percent over the previous three years. The national hotel occupancy rate is 65 percent.
The Residence Inn is expected to open downtown this year, creating 175 new rooms. Another 922 rooms have been announced and are expected to open in the next few years.
The Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts recently finished its facelift. In 2016, the center completed $17.7 million in upgrades and renovations such as new lighting, rebuilt concessions area, safety systems and new paint throughout the building.