The Raleigh architects behind notable projects such as the Raleigh Convention Center, the Contemporary Art Museum and the new Union Station have ambitious plans for a one-acre property in downtown’s transforming Warehouse District.
A new rezoning application from Steve Schuster of the firm Clearscapes asks the city to allow the construction of a building up to 12 stories tall on West Martin Street near Nash Square. The property — at 307, 309, 311 and 313 W. Martin St. — is currently zoned for five-story structures.
Clearscapes has owned the property — home to two historic, former warehouse buildings — since the late 1980s, and the firm feels it is the right time to redevelop the property, with how much the neighborhood has taken off in recent years, Schuster said in a phone interview Wednesday. Money has flooded into the Warehouse District in recent years because of its proximity to downtown.
Schuster recalled that the neighborhood, and downtown in general, was rather sleepy when the firm moved onto Martin Street in the 1980s. In fact, the company started developing its own buildings downtown, simply because they couldn’t find clients interested in being there at the time, Schuster said.
“In the early ’80s, downtown was not the place to be. There was not a lot of activity,” Schuster said. “I knew all of downtown would come back at some point, and the Warehouse District is clearly on fire right now, but whether it happened sooner or later, that I didn’t know.”
Though it is too early for any renderings of Clearscapes’ plan for the block, Schuster said it would marry the neighborhood’s history — by keeping the two historic buildings on the site — with the neighborhood’s recent trajectory. The property would be better utilized with more density since it will be located so close to a major transportation hub in Union Station, Schuster said.
The 12-story height allowance would only be used on the property’s surface parking lot, which is behind the two buildings that face Martin Street.
“With the historic buildings being both from the early 20th Century, and the infill being of the early 21st Century, it’s a great opportunity to have a cross-century conversation between the two buildings,” Schuster said.
Schuster, who has been working in Raleigh since the late 1970s, said he hopes to get the application before the Raleigh City Council in the spring. He won’t be the only developer asking the council to allow more height in the Warehouse District around that time. Developer John Kane is hoping to build up to 20 stories on the nearby Clancy & Theys property on Cabarrus Street.
Schuster thinks Clearscapes has a strong case for being granted the rezoning.
“We have got to make a compelling case that this in the neighborhood’s best interest,” he said, noting that the plan has gotten positive feedback from neighbors.
“To me, it is a matter of tradeoffs,” he said. “Right now, by right, we could tear down two important buildings and build a five-story block. But we think by keeping two important buildings and building (the 12-story building) inside the center of the block we can achieve support.”
Also, because of the city’s parking requirements, the creation of parking within the new building will necessitate it being taller, Schuster added.
Currently, the two historic buildings on the property are being used for a variety of uses. Clearscapes has its offices there, the Visual Arts Exchange is based there and there are several loft apartments as well.
Schuster it wasn’t clear if the current tenants would have to move during construction. “Our goal is for that not to be the case,” he said.
The new building would also have a variety of uses, Schuster said.
“The urban tradition has always been a mixed-use of residential, creative office space and retail space,” Schuster said. “That is what makes an urban space vibrant — when you have 24-hour uses.”