Ned Barnett

Raleigh’s Dillon project blends old and new

The Dillon takes shape in downtown Raleigh

After more than a year of construction, one of the pioneering developments on downtown’s west side has begun to take shape. A single element worth emphasizing about the design of The Dillon would be its view: expansive to the south from an outside
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After more than a year of construction, one of the pioneering developments on downtown’s west side has begun to take shape. A single element worth emphasizing about the design of The Dillon would be its view: expansive to the south from an outside

The Dillon project’s 18-story office tower and its two adjoining six-story apartment buildings rose floor by floor through 2017 like a count-up to year’s end. With the buildings nearing their opening in the new year, developer John Kane recently escorted a group of News & Observer staffers on a hard-hat tour of the most recent addition to Raleigh’s changing skyline.

After climbing nine floors amid the whirl of drills and a coating of concrete dust, we walked out on a broad, south-facing terrace high above Martin Street. Eventually, the terrace will feature common space and outdoor seating for a restaurant, but for now it is a platform for seeing the arrival of tomorrow.

Looking to the west and then to the east, you can follow a line of new landmark buildings. In the distant west is the dome of the Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral, closer are the seven-story Bloomsbury Estates condominiums on Boylan Street, then the nearly complete Union Station. Aligned in the east are the Wake County Justice Center, the PNC building with its spire sitting like a party hat on the skyline and behind it, the SkyHouse Raleigh apartment tower.

Set all in a line, the buildings, all rising within the last 10 years, seem to be parading into the future. The $150 million, 2.5 acre Dillon project – the first mixed-use development of its kind in downtown Raleigh – may be the clearest expression of that transition. It is designed for young workers in tech fields, who earn higher-than-average incomes and who want to live and work in the heart of the city. At street level in the Dillon, retail space is already committed to a clothing store, a grocery, a wine bar and a barber shop.

Kane said he thinks the opening of the project will transform the Warehouse District. “It will look dramatically different,” he said. “People just like being in this kind of atmosphere. They’ll think, ‘Wow, you’ve really got something cool here.’ 

What’s distinctive about the Dillon project is that it opens a door to the city’s future while still acknowledging its past. Its name comes from the Dillon Supply Company, whose warehouses for steel and industrial supplies previously occupied the site. A brick wall painted with the Dillon company logo has been preserved.

Turan Duda, a principal in Duda Paine Architects, the Durham firm that designed the project, said the buildings unite an older Raleigh with the emerging one. He said that approach appeals to younger workers looking for “authentic” buildings that fit and enhance their locations.

“Cities are made richer when we allow history to overlap,” Duda said.

The challenge was to make the Dillon new and yet reflective and respectful of the old. The result is an office tower that goes beyond a glass box. Its lower structure is rich with brick, and terra-cotta bands carry the brick color to its upper floors. It is oriented toward the train station much like the warehouses it replaced.

Yet even as it’s rooted in the old Warehouse District, the new construction lifts the area beyond that past. The southwestern edge of the office tower juts out and then tapers inward as it rises. The shifting line evokes a rocket and gives the building a sense of taking off. In 2018, the Dillon project and the once gritty and long moribund Warehouse District will lift off into a new year and a new era.

Barnett: 919-829-4512, or nbarnett@newsobserver.com

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