RALEIGH — When Tower Shopping Center opened in 1977, it was one of the first major retail spots in East Raleigh, taking advantage of the relatively new Beltline to attract shoppers from throughout the city.
But these days, big-name retailers like Sears are long gone, leaving landlords to fill storefronts with smoke shops, check-cashing businesses and other establishments targeted at low-income customers. The adjacent 30-year-old, 108,000-square-foot Tower Marketplace is looking at a 49 percent vacancy rate after the departure of Hamrick’s department store this summer.
Raleigh police are now fielding frequent complaints of panhandling and other crime around the shops at New Bern Avenue and the Beltline. In a report to the City Council this month, police leaders recommended “revitalization by the city as (Tower) sits along a major corridor within the city and is also in walking distance of several neighborhoods.”
Vicki Hewitt is among those within walking distance, and she told the council in an email that she doesn’t feel safe shopping there.
“It has become quite dangerous with people who aggressively beg and actually walk right up on an individual,” Hewitt wrote. “There have been assaults, shootings, indecent exposures, etc., recently. ... The parking lot is dirty and holes need to be filled.”
Police Sgt. D.L. Bond issued a memo Nov. 10 in response to Hewitt’s concerns. Bond said police have investigated 22 panhandling incidents in the past two months alone, though he said most were along Trawick Road rather than inside the shopping centers. Officers have issued nine citations and two warnings during that time period. Six drug-related complaints have also been reported.
“There have been homeless camps set up in the wooded areas behind the shopping center,” Bond wrote. “The large homeless population in the New Bern Avenue area has been the subject of most of the panhandling complaints. In some cases, homeless subjects are also suspects in the larceny cases within the area. Nevertheless, the homeless population is not responsible for all of the problems surrounding Tower Shopping Center.”
Tower Shopping Center is home to a blood plasma center, which attracts homeless and indigent people with few other opportunities to earn income.
But Bond noted that the Raleigh Inn motel, next to Tower Marketplace, is also a major source of problems that police are closely monitoring.
“The motel has become a major hub for drug distribution, prostitution, and storing and selling stolen property,” Bond wrote. “Runaway juveniles and wanted persons are often located at this motel.”
Bond says police are eager to work with business owners, residents and a group aiming to spruce up New Bern Avenue to brainstorm solutions. Hewitt says city leaders need to pitch in to create a safe, attractive neighborhood center.
“We need help, and as taxpaying citizens deserve what other communities are provided,” she wrote.
Campbell: 919-829-4802; Twitter: @RaleighReporter