Midtown Raleigh News

Vision for Blue Ridge takes shape

A greenway connection under Wade Avenue. An indoor recreational ice rink next to PNC Arena.

These are among the ideas being floated for Blue Ridge Road after three years of talks among businesses, landowners and public institutions on the West Raleigh corridor.

The city will hold a public meeting next week to review and gather feedback on the ideas, which seek to spur a new generation of urban-oriented development.

The area – home to a sports arena, an art museum, fairgrounds, a hospital and a university research campus – can become a showcase corridor for Raleigh, supporters say.

Despite all the potential, a grand vision for the area has not taken hold, says Dr. Stuart Levin, a doctor at Wake Internal Medicine who leads the Blue Ridge stakeholders group.

The street suffers from a car-centric layout that offers few amenities for pedestrians and cyclists.

Levin’s advocacy has kept the initiative moving, said City Councilman Thomas Crowder, who represents the area.

“He’s done a fabulous job of working over the past several years to pull the different landowners, stakeholders and stage agencies to the table,” Crowder said. “They all see the opportunities here.”

Ready for light rail

The redesign will prepare, in part, for the arrival of light rail. West Raleigh would be home to two stations proposed along a future route from downtown to Cary. Plans call for dense urban villages around most of the stations, based on the idea that people will ride the train if they can live, work and eat within walking distance.

Developers once believed that PNC Arena, formerly the RBC Center, would spur a wave of town-center-style shops, restaurants and residences.

Now light rail is viewed as a more likely catalyst.

“Light rail has a much greater track record than arenas in creating economic development,” Crowder said.

Though details are still coming together, the blueprint imagines four distinct areas: A medical district near Rex Hospital; an arts district near the museum; the fairgrounds area; and residences, restaurants and offices near the light-rail line.

Ideas for corridor

The city has received a wide-ranging list of suggestions from institutions and businesses. Among the ideas:

A greenway connection under Wade Avenue would create a “really big loop” through the N.C. State University veterinary school, which is slated for a major expansion. The idea came from Dan Gottlieb, director of planning and design at the N.C. Museum of Art.

The museum has sought to turn its campus into a recreational venue with gardens and links to local and regional greenways.

A connection to N.C. State would be valuable, said Tom Skolnicki, the landscape architect for the university.

“The success of the existing pedestrian bridge over the Beltline suggests that there is a culture in Raleigh that values green space,” Skolnicki said. “Development of a more robust path system...could become a signature element of the Blue Ridge corridor.”

An ice rink could make sense near the intersection of Blue Ridge and Trinity roads, says Jessie Taliaferro, a member of the Centennial Authority, which manages the PNC Arena.

The rink would serve as a practice venue for the Carolina Hurricanes, but it would also be available for public recreational use. The Hurricanes currently practice at a rink in Cary.

Arena officials are interested in development on portions of the venue’s expansive parking lots. “A full service hotel in the block would be fabulous,” Taliaferro told city planners in an email.

State Fairgrounds officials have long sought sidewalk upgrades. A master plan in 2009 identifies 50 improvement projects, including sidewalks, landscaping and a redesigned Gate 1 with a transit stop and nicer main entrance.

Four million people per year visit the fairgrounds.

“We need wide sidewalks throughout the area to accommodate ever-growing crowds for events throughout the year,” fairgrounds officials wrote in offering feedback about the plan.