Four years after Philip Bernard launched the Person Street Partnership to help revitalize a business district known mostly for empty buildings, the area is thriving.
New businesses, pedestrian and traffic improvements and a close working relationship between property owners and the city now characterize North Person Street. More than 100 business and property owners and city staff members now work together through the partnership.
Last week, the city awarded the Person Street Partnership a 2014 Sir Walter Raleigh Award for Public Service. The awards recognize outstanding new contributions to the character and appearance of Raleigh.
We asked Bernard, a landscape designer, to talk about the work the partnership has done and what may come next. Here are his responses, which have been edited:
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Q. How did you get started?
A. We started with quarterly meetings, and the first one was at the Urban Design Center downtown. The idea was to have meetings where we could have speakers or learn more about things like streetscaping and parking and business improvement to build momentum for North Person Street.
Q. Did you have an overarching vision early on?
A. At that time we were really sort of pulling the pieces together. What we really needed was a good strong name like the Person Street Partnership. And we needed more than just the business and property owners. We needed the neighborhoods like Mordecai and Oakwood and Peace University. And then a really big piece of the puzzle was the Raleigh City Council and staff and being able to reach out to them.
Q. Throughout the city, there’s often tension between businesses and residents as an area changes. How have you bridged any gaps between those groups?
A. Primairly through the Mordecai Citizens Advisory Council and the Society for the Preservation of Historic Oakwood as well as the homeowners association at Governor’s Square condominiums. … We just always make it a point to let all of those organizations know what’s going on on Person Street – who’s coming in, which businesses. It’s been a really effective partnership that way.
Q. What’s changed over the four years?
A. I would say that the first part of our outreach and what we were geared toward was building momentum. … Now that we’ve achieved the height of our momentum and are really having good results, we’ve sort of shifted our focus to addressing some of the challenges – good challenges – that might increase on Person Street, such as problems with street closures. It used to be that people wouldn’t mind if you closed the street, it wouldn’t create a problem. Now it does, particularly on a Saturday. … At our next meeting, which will be Sept. 17, we’ll be talking about noise on Person Street and anything that helps these businesses be better neighbors to each other and any problems they may have to keep them from being better businesses.
Q. What comes next for the partnership?
A. I’d say going forward we’re just trying to look at better signage, better branding ideas, a website where businesses can go and find out information about sound permits, parking issues, dealing with departments downtown like building permits. We’re shifting more toward being more service-oriented.
One interesting that that’s happened is because of the rise of the business district we are now considered to be one of the six downtown Raleigh districts, called Seaboard-Person Street. We had a design workshop associated with the new downtown Raleigh plan. We’re trying to evolve as a group to connect everyone together. … So this has been really good news this recent information that came out where Gov. McCrory is considering redeveloping the government complex. One of our next steps to connect Person Street to downtown is that area. So if that’s developed it will be a natural link to downtown.
Q. What else interests you that’s happening in the city?
With the new downtown plan, I’m really interested in connecting to other areas. I would really like to see Peace Street developed more fully between Person Street and Cameron Village. I think that’s a major connecting line downtown.