Midtown Raleigh News

Student crafts vision for warehouse district

Can the warehouse district keep its character as redevelopment brings new buildings, people and businesses?

It’s a long-standing question in urban planning circles, and one that Katie Hamilton set out to tackle in a project for her final landscape architecture course at N.C. State University.

Hamilton came up with a set of ideas to preserve the look and feel of the former industrial hub on the west end of downtown. The key, she says, is to encourage designs that draw on the area’s hallmarks – things like red brick exteriors, huge windows and the preservation of rail lines that cut sweeping curves through the streets.

“Keeping the culture was part of what I wanted to do,” she said.

The timing is ideal for a project of this sort. City leaders are pursuing $70 million in federal grants to convert an old Dillon Supply building into a Grand Central-style train station that would replace the cramped Amtrak depot a few blocks away.

The possibility has stirred public interest. Just last month, more than 50 people showed up for a tour of the Dillon building – an impressive turnout considering there wasn’t much to see other than a big, empty space.

“We want to get the conversation started,” said Roberta Fox, an assistant planning manager at the city’s Urban Design Center.

In coming decades, city planners envision the station as the anchor for a neighborhood teeming with urban flair. Many restaurants, galleries and shops are already there. More could come, along with residential development in the form of lofts and apartments.

Modern amenities, retro look

Hamilton’s project adds a few riffs to concepts previously discussed and debated by city planners. A few examples:

• Martin and Hargett streets, the main connections between the station and downtown, should be refurbished with lighting, wide sidewalks, trees and raised planters with strips of grasses.

Hamilton did an internship at Disney World’s Epcot Center last summer and learned how to use durable plants to minimize maintenance costs.

• At the station complex, underground walkways could be lined with vintage photos that tell the story of Raleigh’s development.

• A bus depot for passengers switching from rail to buses could be topped by an arched roof with frosted glass to create a clean, modern look.

Some buildings in the warehouse district will have to be razed because they fail to meet code and cannot support higher density development envisioned by the city. Others will be preserved as spaces for office and retail tenants.

On a walk through the area one recent morning, Hamilton recalled her studies of train stations in Leuven, Belgium; Washington, D.C.; and Durham.

“If you make transportation something that’s appealing and attractive, people will use it,” she said. “It’s just simple things, like choosing different colors for the buildings and putting in arched roofs.”

Hamilton, 22, grew up in Concord, a suburb of Charlotte known more for Charlotte Motor Speedway than cutting-edge transit amenities.

Once at N.C. State, Hamilton discovered a passion for landscape architecture through her courses at the College of Design. She’d like to become an urban designer specializing in parks and public spaces.

Valuable ideas can come from young minds, said Juanita Shearer-Swink, a project manager for Triangle Transit who guided Hamilton during the project.

“These students often come from places with really good public transit systems or they have traveled to cities where they did not always need a car to get around,” she said.

“They see possibilities through a different lens, and that often helps us to generate better ideas.”