At a time when Fayetteville Street is bustling with activities, when apartments and condos are sprouting all over downtown, when city leaders and developers point proudly to the transformation of Raleigh’s core, there has been one section of downtown that hasn’t risen on these winds of change: City Market. .
The City Market building, 100 years old, would seem to be in a prime spot for being the center of another revitalization. And yet there it sits at Moore Square downtown, underused and a prime example for the skeptics who still question whether money should be invested in further bolstering downtown.
No one has found the answer about what to do about City Market. Retail tenants have come and gone and come and gone. And even as the city talks about revitalizing Moore Square near the building, uncertainty lingers about City Market. Somehow one of the city’s first revitalization efforts remains stubbornly the last to take off.
The city, undaunted, continues to try to lift the area. Last spring, Raleigh City Council members voted to borrow up to $15 million or so to renovate Moore Square. The renovation, which has lingered too long in limbo, includes imaginative things such as tiered lawns and a granite plaza. And the beauty of the plan, which still is under discussion, is that it can be done without going over the city’s debt capacity.
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Businesses at or near Moore Square have been pushing for action. But some council members still are urging caution, nervous about spending that kind of money.
The success elsewhere in downtown, much of it coming from private investors such as restaurant-entrepreneur-developer Greg Hatem, ought to give council members reason to be enthusiastic about Moore Square. There really isn’t any good reason the square can’t become a vibrant part of downtown. It has history, nature and a location that is being enhanced by more and newer housing nearby.
Michael Hakan, who with his late father, Joe Hakan, bought the City Market in 1995, embraces the potential of City Market and Moore Square.
“We’re on the edge of a new frontier of downtown,” he says. “That’s an exciting place to be.”
Hakan’s quite right in believing that the area has been seen as rather cut off from the rest of downtown and thus cut off from the rebirth that has made the Fayetteville Street area and others boom.
One problem is a perception that Moore Square has become a hangout for homeless people and isn’t safe. There have been problems. But the Marbles children’s museum at Moore Square is doing well, for example, and most visitors can move through the park without being bothered.
One key to the future has to do with another perception: Raleigh has never been effective at teaching downtown visitors about the parking situation, namely where there is free parking and the hours when that free parking is in effect. So some visitors make a pass at going to the shops at the City Market area and keep going when they can’t find a place to park. That has been a long-held problem for businesses deep in the market area, which is why so many have not stayed.
City officials have long said there’s good parking in the area, but they haven’t done much to sell that idea to the public.
Raleigh needs to do all it can to help the City Market. It should not be isolated from the success in other areas of downtown. If that means investing in buildings and in other renovations, so be it. It would not be fair to say the city has done nothing; it has. But as with other parts of the central city, officials have to see that there is follow-through and that potential investors have the incentives or the help from City Hall they need to take the risk that’s in every new business no matter where it is.
Within sight of City Market is evidence of the great things that can happen in a downtown when there is imagination. It can happen at City Market, too.