Give Gov. Pat McCrory credit for offering some imagination in suggesting that part of the state government complex in downtown Raleigh be majorly overhauled. A project envisioned by the governor and dramatically dubbed “Project Phoenix” would seek to revitalize downtown north in the same way that reopening Fayetteville Street and building a convention center did for the city’s core.
The governor rightly notes that some downtown Raleigh buildings in the government complex, specifically the Albemarle Building on North Salisbury Street and the Archdale Building on Peace Street, are from the “worst period of architecture in our history.” The Albemarle, housing the state treasurer and the Department of Health and Human Services, would be renovated. McCrory thinks the Archdale Building should be torn down.
The governor’s vision of having buildings with open floor plans, mixed-use tenants and space for private businesses is good. He’s trying to bring some sort of after-hours and weekend activity to Halifax Mall, and it’s not his job to design buildings or do a landscape layout. Unfortunately, money from the General Assembly will be needed, and the governor hasn’t demonstrated a lot of clout with his Republican mates on Jones Street.
If he is able to lure private investment, maybe with the help of the Downtown Raleigh Alliance, amazing things are possible, and evidence of that is ample a few miles to the west.
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The American Tobacco campus in downtown Durham, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary, remains a spectacular success. Owned by Capitol Broadcasting, the campus is a true wonder, particularly to those residents who remember how run-down and even depressing the area was not long ago.
Once wary of signing on for a spot at American Tobacco, tenants now seek longer-term deals, and all retail space and about 99 percent of office space are gone. That’s remarkable, and a tribute to the vision of Capitol Broadcasting and its leader, Jim Goodmon of Raleigh.
It’s true that a project such as McCrory envisions would involve more space, but the principles of imaginative design and mixing retail and residential and business would hold for downtown Raleigh as they have for American Tobacco.
The governor also has the example of the success of the Fayetteville Street area and nearby residential projects. Of late, the number of downtown resident projects has boomed, and units have been snapped up quickly, particularly by younger people who enjoy the urban lifestyle.
The degree that the governor, who was mayor of Charlotte – a city that victoriously revitalized its downtown – is willing to step out boldly on Raleigh is refreshing in that he seems to understand that the Capital City belongs to everyone in North Carolina. Its vitality is important to convey to visitors the energy and enthusiasm that should be radiating from the core of their capital.