Raleigh Report

Raleigh offers 10-year vision for downtown

The city should encourage more retail and less nightlife in downtown Raleigh.

It should transform Red Hat Amphitheater, once the proposed site of Convention Center expansion, into a major, long-term entertainment asset.

It should create more green space and make its roads more bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly. And it should encourage the development of and underdeveloped sites while preserving Raleigh’s historic character.

Those are some of the concepts in a 10-year vision plan for downtown Raleigh, drafted by city staff and presented to city council members in a Monday work session.

The plan includes broad ideas and specific action in five areas of downtown: the southern “gateway center” near the Raleigh Convention Center; the northern area of Raleigh, Nash Square and Union Station; Moore Square and Glenwood Green.

For example, it calls on the city to develop the south end of downtown for a major, “regionally significant” development that could boost tourism and to create a tax district that funds affordable housing.

Smaller goals include installing “bike corrals” around downtown and encouraging AT&T to transform its windowless building on McDowell Street into public art. It does not, however, include a vision for the new Dix park because city staff had crafted most of the plan by the time Raleigh acquired the site.

Council members said they hope to incorporate Dix into the plan, but most seemed generally supportive of the vision otherwise.

The plan would “create a greener city, improved transportation and connectivity and support the values of innovation, entrepreneurship and creativity,” Councilwoman Mary-Ann Baldwin said after the meeting: “Our biggest challenge will be developing funding strategies and (public-private) partnerships to accomplish the vision.”

But some expressed concerns about vague language.

For example, the plan calls on the city to study “appropriate zoning height designations” and amend the zoning map accordingly in order to encourage development on vacant or under-built sites. The plan doesn’t include specific height recommendations because the city wants to retain flexibility to encourage economic development, said Ken Bowers, Raleigh’s planning director.

Councilman Russ Stephenson said the city should be judicious in granting height entitlements. Raleigh is on the brink of a growth explosion, Stephenson said: “We all want to make sure that explosion occurs intentionally.”

There’s no timetable for approving the plan or putting it into effect, in part because it’s being introduced as the city undergoes an effort to rezone about a third of the city, including parts of downtown Raleigh.

It’s unclear when the council will vote on the rezoning effort. Stephenson said the council should take its time in crafting the longterm vision plan for downtown before approving zoning changes there.

“Do we really want to put a 20-story building right on the southern end of Nash Square?” he asked, referred to proposed rezoning maps.

Councilman Wayne Maiorano offered a quick “Yes” to Stephenson’s question without being recognized to speak by the mayor. “It’s a good piece of work,” Maiorano said. “I think it allows us to make a statement about our potential.”

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