Five months after a fire destroyed an apartment building and damaged other buildings, customers are starting to navigate around construction equipment to return to some restaurants and bars.
Sections of three downtown streets – Jones, Lane and Harrington – have been closed since the March 16 fire engulfed The Metropolitan, a building under construction near the Glenwood South neighborhood.
Some business owners have reported steep declines in foot traffic since the blaze, but the city said the streets must remain closed for safety reasons.
To help people find their way, Raleigh installed a message board on Capital Boulevard over the weekend alerting drivers that businesses near the fire site are open. Pedestrian detour signs have also been installed.
The detour signs, along with media coverage and marketing efforts, have helped bring a few customers back in the past month, said Sarah Jenkins, bar manager at Little City Brewing and Provisions Co. on North Street.
Before the signs went up, Jenkins said, people said they had trouble figuring out how to get around the closed streets.
“They drive in circles because they can’t really see what street to take to actually get here,” she said. “I haven’t heard that as much lately.”
But businesses are still hurting. Little City owner Jon Seelbinder said his bar remains “choked off” from much of the pedestrian and vehicle traffic.
Lane Street is expected to reopen by Aug. 18 to pedestrians and a single lane of traffic, Raleigh spokesman John Boyette said. The timeline is unknown for reopening Harrington and Jones Street.
Seelbinder said Harrington, which runs in front of his business, is a “huge hurdle.”
“We’ve got more beer than we’ve ever had, and we want people to know that we’re open,” he said.
Alex Amra, owner of Tobacco Road Sports Cafe on West Jones Street, said it used to be easy for state employees and others who work on the northern end of downtown Raleigh to walk to the restaurant.
“Lunch business was pretty good,” Amra said. “That took a bite out of it.”
Some people who worked and lived in the area were displaced by the fire and haven’t yet returned. The blaze damaged the Link Apartments, along with the Quorum Center, the Coates Building and the Reynolds Building.
The North Carolina League of Municipalities owns the Reynolds building and jointly owns the Coates building with the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners.
In May, the League of Municipalities signed an 18-month lease for the third floor of the Wells Fargo building on Fayetteville Street. Scott Mooneyham, spokesman for the group, said he is not surprised foot traffic has slowed since the fire.
“Besides buildings like ours being empty, the Quorum Center is vacant right now and the Link Apartments (to my knowledge) still has some damaged, vacant units,” Mooneyham wrote in an email. “I would guess that those residential properties were even more important to their business.”
Boyette said Raleigh is looking at additional ways to get the word out that businesses are open.
In the meantime, business owners are waiting.
“I really hope they could open the road just to get traffic moving through there again,” Amra said. “But I know that’s not possible.”
Kathryn Trogdon: 919-829-4845: @KTrogdon