Raleigh Report

Raleigh wants to tear down City Hall, build new government campus

Raleigh’s City Hall on Hargett Street downtown was built in 1983. The city wants to tear down the building and create a new government complex.
Raleigh’s City Hall on Hargett Street downtown was built in 1983. The city wants to tear down the building and create a new government complex. N&O file photo

City Hall could last another 15 years, but Raleigh leaders say they want to tear it down and build a new government campus with commercial office and retail space.

City Council members say they don’t want to renovate the City Hall, vacant police station and parking deck on the downtown block bounded by Morgan, McDowell, Hargett and Dawson streets. Instead, they want to demolish them and start over on the site.

“This whole block is an anti-civic block,” Councilman Russ Stephenson said. “This building is an anti-civic building.”

Lat year, the city hired Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, which designed the new One World Trade Center buildings in New York City, as its primary consultant to create a master plan for a municipal campus. Council members on Tuesday offered tentative guidance on how to proceed with the project, which the city expects to complete in the next five to seven years.

The six-story City Hall, which opened on Hargett Street in 1983, could serve its purpose for more than another decade, according to city staff. But council members described it as an eyesore that fails to meet the needs of government or residents.

“This building needs to come down,” Councilman Dickie Thompson said.

A new campus should have more windows, more green space and more reasons for residents and downtown workers to engage with City Hall, Councilman David Cox said.

“One things I’d like to avoid is a lot of office space with no windows,” he said.

It’s unclear how much of the campus would be devoted to the private sector.

Cost

City staff estimated last year that the project could cost more than $165 million.

Raleigh hopes to sell off some of its other downtown properties to raise money and help offset construction costs. It owns property around Moore Square, One Exchange Plaza off of Fayetteville Street, Charter Square and the Dillon building on West Martin Street, among other sites.

The properties likely won’t go on the market until the master planning process for the new campus is complete, City Manager Ruffin Hall said last year. Raleigh could make at least $38.2 million from selling about a half-dozen of its downtown properties, according to a city staff estimate.

The city could save money by renovating the buildings on Hargett Street. But building anew “would be more efficient long term,” Councilman Corey Branch said. “It would be cheaper to tear it down now and rebuild than it would be down the road.”

Size

The city and consultants aren’t sure how big the campus will be or how many buildings it might have.

Raleigh has 1,100 employees spread across 300,000 square feet of space downtown. The city will likely have 1,700 employees and need up to 400,000 square feet to accommodate growth over the next seven years, said Kristopher Takacs, who’s leading the project for Skidmore, Owings & Merrill.

“That, we need to think of as a starting point,” he said. “Then we need to think about a building you would grow into over time.”

Nash Square

Raleigh leaders say they want the new campus to be more connected to Nash Square, a city block of green space with trees and monuments.

The goal is to keep the “restful interior” of Nash Square while activating the corners of the block, said Ken Bowers, Raleigh’s planning director. He said Nash Square should be a peaceful “counterpoint” to Moore Square, which the city is redeveloping.

The front of City Hall and the window-less council chambers, shaped like a drum, face Nash Square.

“It’s not an inspirational space. I think most folks would agree with that. The drum is an interesting thing – not quite like the Guggenheim,” Bowers said, referring to the museum in New York.

Day care, security

The city should incorporate communal working spaces in the municipal campus to encourage staff collaboration and attract younger workers, Takacs said.

Mayor Nancy McFarlane said the campus should also accommodate city employees who are parents.

“It needs a day care on site,” McFarlane said. “It’s a challenge many families face.”

Kay Crowder, the mayor pro tem, said she wants to encourage public engagement but is worried about employee safety. City Hall lacks security checkpoints.

Crowder said someone recently confronted her after waiting next to her car in the parking deck.

“I hate we live in a world where the first thing I think about is the security of the building, but we do,” she said. “Security has to be paramount here.”

Have your say

Raleigh hopes residents and downtown workers come to the Downtown Farmers Market in City Plaza on Wednesday to offer input on the municipal campus.

The booth will be one of many “pop up” outreach efforts to gather public input. City leaders rarely get the chance to work with the public on such a large effort, Takacs said.

“Doing a City Hall project is a legacy project,” he said. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime project.”

Paul A. Specht: 919-829-4870, @AndySpecht

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