Feb 9, 2024 - News

How to fix downtown Raleigh

A rendering of an art installation in downtown Raleigh

A new report suggests that Raleigh needs to bring more color and art to Fayetteville Street. Photo: Courtesy of Downtown Raleigh Alliance

Raleigh's Fayetteville Street is disconnected from the rest of the Triangle and is lacking the color and vibrancy of other areas, a consultant has concluded.

  • To reclaim its status as Raleigh's main street and remain competitive, an 82-page report argues, it needs an overhaul.

Why it matters: Raleigh's downtown core, centered around Fayetteville Street, has faced an existential crisis coming out of the pandemic.

  • Once a thriving, office-dense area, daily foot traffic remains 78% of 2019 levels due to the rise of remote work.

State of play: Downtown's retail footprint has faced intense competition from the Village District since the 1950s. Now, it's also losing potential visitors to "new urbanist environments" like North Hills and Fenton.

  • Downtown Raleigh is "not a mall nor a lifestyle center," the report notes, but it "has an opportunity to lean into the qualities that make it distinctive: its history and authenticity, its stately trees, local small businesses, its embodiment of all things North Carolina as the state capital, and its potential for innovation and risk taking."

The report suggests taking these immediate next steps:

  • Redesign Fayetteville Street's sidewalks to encourage more outdoor dining;
  • Add artwork, signage and light installations to bring more color to the street;
  • Reposition City Market as a hub for retail and food;
  • Encourage office-to-residential conversions and the redevelopment of parking garages into mixed-use housing;
  • And make City Plaza more inviting by adding greenery, daily activities and a surrounding arts district.

The report outlines these initiatives as priorities:

  1. Develop a streetscape design for Fayetteville Street that offers variations on a theme
  2. Build a strong foundation to ensure downtown is clean, safe and vibrant
  3. Develop a family-friendly itinerary and route around Fayetteville Street attractions
  4. Design and market the downtown core as North Carolina's Main Street
  5. Celebrate Raleigh's Black Business District
  6. Add more housing on and around Fayetteville Street
  7. Use public space to support neighborhood livability
  8. Reposition City Plaza as downtown's front porch
  9. Grow Raleigh's arts and entertainment district
  10. Create a bold connection south of downtown

Context: Last summer, the city contracted with the consulting firm Interface Studio to come up with a plan for revitalizing the central business district.

  • Interface's new report is the first of four strategies it will ultimately release.

What's next: This is just the first set of recommendations to come from Interface. It will also release reports on:

  • Creating a new retail strategy for downtown
  • Examination and positioning of the downtown office market
  • Improving opportunities for women- and minority-owned businesses
  • Developing the next big ideas for Downtown Raleigh.

What they're saying: "I am incredibly excited about the strategy set forth and anxious for our Council and staff to get moving on enacting these recommendations," Raleigh Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin said in a statement. "This is the heart of our city and … we need to set forth a new vision."

A final plan encompassing all of these strategies will be released this summer.

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to reflect that foot traffic in downtown Raleigh is 78% of what it was in 2019, not 78% below what it was at that time.

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