Most every photographer in Raleigh knows this: If you want a shot of downtown, you go to the roads south of town. From there you can capture a perfect view of the clustered skyscrapers to the north.
But few people ever turn to look in the opposite direction, toward South Raleigh. Crisscrossed by huge roads and overshadowed in parts by silvery industrial smokestacks, the south side has been slower to redevelop than any of downtown’s other wings.
Many houses here sell for far less than $100,000, even as a downtown prices have surged in every other direction.
And that’s all likely to change.
South Raleigh is a final frontier for central Raleigh’s redevelopment – and gentrification – and new buyers are laying their claims ever faster.
“Basically, what I told my Realtor was, ‘Find me a rundown, freestanding building close to downtown,’” Jeremiah Smith said.
In 2013, he bought a warehouse on South Saunders. Now his property is home to his eco-minded pest management company, his wife’s gourmet mushroom business and a man who makes beer taps from antlers, among other things.
Down the road, a surge of new investment could create a satellite of downtown. The owners of Trophy Brewing & Pizza Co. have put $2.3 million into about 2.5 acres near the intersection of Maywood and Lake Wheeler.
They hope to build “Big Trophy,” a larger brewery and restaurant to complement their place west of downtown.
David Meeker, a Trophy partner along with Chris Powers and David “Woody” Lockwood, expects to spend another $1.8 million in two phases. The first could include a large beer-brewing system and a small taproom. A kitchen, garden and larger taproom could follow.
Seeking downtown crowd
Meeker sees several groups of potential customers.
“The first group is the downtown crowd. We’re hoping we can pull them a half-mile out of downtown,” he said.
He also figures Trophy, with brewmaster Les Stewart keeping the suds coming, will draw some of the weekend hordes that descend on the State Farmers Market, just across Lake Wheeler Road. Beer lovers will travel too.
However, the business also will depend on the arrival of a younger demographic in the surrounding Caraleigh neighborhood and beyond, he said.
“The west side and the north side are, I feel like, are developed – and the east side has all this young energy, and I feel like the south side is going back in time ... ,” he said.
“There are older folks living in the neighborhoods. Most of the homes have not been renovated. There's some of the old-school character – neighbors caring about neighbors. The folks who have lived in some of those neighborhoods and are involved with the neighborhood association have literally been there for 40 years.”
Mildred Flynn, 73, is part of that crowd. She doesn’t see herself drinking much beer, but she’s happy to see her property values rise.
“I think it's one of the hottest neighborhoods in town. It really is,” Flynn said. “People is wanting to live out here, buy out here. It’s just really hoppin’.”
‘Second warehouse district’
Nearly 50 homes in the half-mile around her house have sold in the last five years, though many went for less than six figures. Meanwhile, developers are showing interest in new residential construction.
The renovated Caraleigh Mills building reopened as a condominium complex in the 2000s, and another set of historic-looking buildings will soon join next door.
CitySpace Homes, the local developer known for its tall, skinny and colorful “folk vernacular” houses, will make its next project on Maywood Avenue.
“This is kind of the second warehouse district,” said Richard Johnson, who runs the design-build firm with his wife, Amy Goodale.
“This is an area we’ve been able to find some bigger lots,” Goodale said of South Raleigh. But the competition’s heating up. National home builders have been asking after their land, and other developers are constantly scoping the designs at their most recent project, Dorothea Gardens.
Even as the couple spoke, the son of one developer was running a tape measure alongside one of the brightly colored Dorothea houses, which are tucked between southwestern downtown and Western Boulevard.
The couple’s new project and its 57 single-family homes will stand just next to Caraleigh Mills and across from Trophy’s new investment.
They started selling, the couple said, before the site even had a sign.
The city is preparing for that change. Raleigh’s government has commissioned a study of its “southern gateway,” ranging from Lake Wheeler Road in the west, to Hammond Road in the east and south to Tryon Road.
Dhanya Sandeep, an urban designer for the city, said the study will be built from meetings with residents and business owners, six of which have already happened. It will assess topics from transit to economic development and neighborhood character.
“You have a lot of properties that are owned by single landowners - larger properties that offer more redevelopment potential,” she said.
“We've already had some of them show up – businesses that are willing to invest, as long as the corridor can be improved and made safer.”
Rocky Strickland III, who ran a manufacturing business on South Saunders Street for decades, thinks it still could be another 15 years before things really start changing.
He thinks the development of the near-by Dorothea Dix campus, which the city aims to turn into a huge park, will be the real catalyst. He’s an owner of four of the low-slung, mostly brick buildings that line South Saunders on the way back to downtown, and he’s already getting calls.
“I put them off by telling them, the truth is that I want to hold on to the property for the future,” Strickland said. “I have no reason to sell, because I think one day it will be worth more.”
The city of Raleigh will host its next meeting on the “Southern Gateway” on May 7 at the Wake Tech Public Safety Campus. The meeting is described as a community work session.