For many years, Raleigh’s warehouse district was too aptly named. For it was there amid the sprawling, empty brick buildings that plans for the area’s rebirth lay dormant in storage.
Now the future is coming into the daylight. The Contemporary Art Museum anchors the district. The software company Citrix built an impressive new headquarters within the brick husk of the old Dillon Supply building. The handsome Depot Station building is finally flourishing with restaurants and shops. And on Tuesday, the Raleigh City Council approved the district’s biggest development yet – a $150 million, mixed-use project that will include a 17-story tower.
The project led by Kane Realty CEO John Kane will transform 2.5 acres between South West Street and South Harrington Street, creating a focal point of the district. It is expected to be completed by the end of 2017.
Kane remade the worn North Hills Mall area just north of the Beltline into a teeming center of shops, restaurants, offices and condos. Now he’s bringing a big dose of development to the red-hot downtown real estate market.
“We have looked at a number of things downtown and have been wanting to do something for quite some time,” he said. “We’re very excited.”
Kane should be excited. He’s in early on what appears to be a can’t-miss development deal. Whether Raleigh residents should share his enthusiasm is another matter.
Kane is widely praised for his reinvention of the North Hills area. Certainly his remaking of the mall is a vast improvement. But the project’s secondary phase on the east side of Six Forks Road is creating traffic strains and raising questions of how much density the area can stand or should tolerate.
Kane’s Warehouse District project raises similar concerns. In general, there’s every reason for the city to welcome the investment. But what gives pause is how the project fits into the wider context of development in the district and downtown at large. That’s not clear. Is the Warehouse District worth preserving by retaining buildings and sticking with its low-rise character? Or should the six-block area be transformed by market demands?
Council member Kay Crowder says the warehouses and depots “are part of the fabric of the city we can’t get back. It’s important to keep part of that as we move forward.” But that’s hardly a settled opinion on the council or in the community, and development pressures could support tearing down old buildings to make way for more towers and other uses.
For now, developers appear to have the upper hand. Three city council members couldn’t participate in the vote on Kane’s project because they have ties to the developer. The project was approved with Kane’s assurances that it will include no bars, a concession to the city’s troubles with the Fayetteville Street area.
Kane’s project will be an asset to the city and help bring those long-delayed visions of the Warehouse District to reality. But the project’s power to transform should also alert the city council to pay close attention to the outlines – and the limits – of the emerging Raleigh of tomorrow. How well the council is doing on that score should be roundly discussed as the city prepares for the Oct. 6 city council election.