Small details, like sidewalk etchings, will encourage visitors to lean in and learn about Moore Square’s past.
Big features, like the 40,000 square feet of lawn space, will entice passers-by to stretch out on a towel or yoga mat and forget about the city around them.
The Raleigh City Council in 2014 voted to borrow $12.6 million to renovate Moore Square. Planners now estimate they are 80 percent finished on a new design that they say will generate more activity in the southeast corner of downtown Raleigh.
“The community has asked for more day-to-day small-scale programming – things that you can do during your lunch hour,” said Gina Ford, a landscape architect with Sasaki Associates, which the city hired as a design consultant.
“All major design elements have been locked in at this point,” Ford said. “The remaining 20 percent will focus on detailing the proposed materials, structures, furnishings and landscaping.”
Raleigh aimed to start construction this summer and complete it by the end of next summer, but the process may take a few months longer than expected. The council recently changed plans for hiring a contractor, and the city is unlikely to request bid proposals until late this summer, said Grayson Maughan, a city planner in the parks and recreation department.
Moore Square sits between Hargett, Person, Martin and Blount streets two blocks east of Fayetteville Street, considered downtown’s main drag.
The square’s large trees make the area secluded, and people have complained about sometimes feeling unsafe. It also lacks the type of open space that planners say is needed to host programs or to allow kids to run wild.
Draft renovations for Moore Square not only aim to address those problems but would create new functions and include new details that celebrate the area’s history. The square is adjacent to City Market, which opened in 1914 and for years was the primary venue for African-American vendors to sell and exchange goods, according to leaders of the South Park Heritage Walk project.
The project aims to document and preserve historic assets within Raleigh’s South Park neighborhood.
“Shopping trips to City Market were often combined with a picnic or a Sunday stroll through adjoining Moore Square, colloquially known then as ‘the Grove,’ and became a common weekend ritual for many African American families residing in the area,” project leaders wrote in their report.
Kofi Boone, associate professor of landscape architecture at N.C. State University, is a project leader who hopes to etch quotes or facts about the area into redesigned Moore Square entryways.
Vendors, cafe, play area
The southeastern corner of the square will host the most activity. Visitors coming from the south are likely to be greeted along a revamped Martin Street sidewalk by food vendors.
The central lawn will face a stage in what planners are calling a “civic plaza,” near the corner of Martin and Person streets. The plaza will be anchored by a building that houses a cafe, public restrooms and office space for city parks staff.
The city expects to select a cafe operator by the end of June, Maughan said.
The intent there is to provide people food and drink and allow them to come sip coffee and watch their kids play.
Grayson Maughan, a city planner in Raleigh’s parks and recreation department
“The intent there is to provide people food and drink and allow them to come sip coffee and watch their kids play,” she said. “I think a lot of the amenities and restrooms are about providing basic services that allow people to come and stay longer.”
Behind the plaza, design plans call for a “natural play” area where children can play around trees, on top of wooden platforms and – if the budget allows – with interactive water features like spray jets.
“It’ll be something that kids can manipulate themselves and make the water move,” Ford said.
Back in the center of the square, visitors can find solitude in one of four “grove rooms” that branch off of the sidewalks encircling the center lawn. Each room will be different; one will have communal tables for dining or group meetings and others will have varied forms of seating.
When it comes to the square, less might be more. The city will need to remove some of the smaller trees and light poles, Ford said.
“It’s tempting to want to put a lot of stuff into the space downtown, but a park like this is not something you’d put a lot of stuff in,” she said. “It’s supposed to be a flexible landmark.”