Raleigh launches new planning process for downtown

ccampbell@newsobserver.comFebruary 17, 2014 

  • The 2003 downtown plan

    Raleigh has checked off most of the action items on its existing downtown plan, which was approved in 2003:

    ✓ Reopen Fayetteville Street to traffic

    ✓ Build a new convention center to replace the too-small Raleigh Civic Center

    ✓ Create a “new festival venue capable of accommodating 4,000 people,” now known as the Red Hat Amphitheater

    ✓ Allow outdoor dining

    ✓ Address “blight created by the Belk building,” now a mixed-use condominium development with ground-floor restaurants

    ✓ “Increase housing options downtown”

— A decade after city leaders approved a downtown blueprint called for reopening Fayetteville Street to cars and building a new convention center, they’re embarking on a new plan guiding the next 10 years.

More than 100 people turned out Tuesday night to hear about the nine-month, $343,500 planning process to shape downtown Raleigh’s next era.

While the 2003 plan was focused on revitalizing an ailing Fayetteville Street, the new plan will tackle a much larger area, spanning from Seaboard Station to the Irregardless Cafe to Shaw University.

“This plan is now looking at the greater downtown area,” city planning director Mitchell Silver said, adding that the document will include needs for new attractions as well as shopping and living options. “We want to have an experience element to it as well.”

The planning process will also be far more high-tech this time around. In addition to the usual series of public hearings and focus groups, anyone with an interest in downtown can log on to raleighnc.mindmixer.com and weigh in using interactive maps.

At the Tuesday kickoff, consultants overseeing the plan encouraged proponents of skateboarding parks, public art and other amenities to post their suggestions to the site – and tell others to vote on the ideas.

“The bad ideas get voted off the island and it makes the good ideas even better,” said Fred Merrill of Sasaki Associates. “Mind Mixer is a way you can have a continual voice in this process and stay engaged all the way through.”

In the coming months, public meetings will tackle five individual downtown districts: Fayetteville Street, Capital, Moore Square, Warehouse and Seaboard/Person Street.

Many of the districts outside the Fayetteville Street core are poised for major growth as downtown continues to attract new employers and residents.

About $250,000 of the cost for the process will come from private sponsors, with the city chipping in the remaining $93,500. But even with a small share of the cost, City Councilman John Odom has opposed the project, saying that downtown is thriving and Raleigh should instead tackle struggling areas.

Silver said his department has delayed downtown efforts while it developed plans for other areas like Capital Boulevard. But with almost no remaining action items on the old plan, he said a conversation about downtown’s future is overdue.

“Now is the time for a new downtown plan,” he said.

Campbell: 919-829-4802; Twitter: @RaleighReporter

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