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Designing A Better Downtown – Part II

Part II – Walling Ourselves In

In Part One of this series we toured a section of downtown Atlanta that contains some of the nation’s most stunning towers. Unfortunately most of these buildings left pedestrians with nothing to do, and the streets for many consecutive blocks look like a ghost town. The lesson is important as Raleigh is not immune to this problem.

ProgressII There are a couple of canyonesque areas in downtown Raleigh that are already evolving this aforementioned way. One is Wilmington Street. The new Progress Two plaza creatively incorporates a large parking garage for people seeking SE downtown. The garage is topped with an office tower, and is skirted by many personalities. The project’s north face is lined with retail, mostly food outlets, while the East face is wrapped in new low-rise condominiums. Wilm_st1 The South side faces the Lincoln Theatre and features exposed parking garage that can be converted to retail space at some point.  In fact, Charlie Goodnight’s Comedy Club almost relocated to this space when the deck was new. The facade germane to this analysis is the west facade, a blank wall. Unfortunately the wall exists on Wilmington Street, one of Raleigh’s historic retail corridors. Compounding problems, directly across the street is a blank wall formed by the bases of both Progress One and One Hannover Square (Bank of America). (map it) How unfortunate that the gateway to one of Raleigh’s most walkable streets is a one block canyon of emptiness. Thankfully designs for the east facade of the Site One project incorporate retail/entertainment space in more than 50% of the east side space.

McDowell1 A second problematic area exists near Nash Square. One way streets McDowell and Dawson form the square’s eastern and western boundaries, and are meant for moving traffic quickly from S. Saunders to Capital Blvd. As a driver these streets work, but as a pedestrian they are similar to that windy, unpleasant block of Spring St. in Atlanta.

As one travels north on McDowell from Poole’s Diner (map it), the left side of the street’s first block is lined by garage-oriented businesses that will eventually be replaced with new development. The right side is lined by the sterile rear wall of the Public Safety Center (pictured), a parking garage entrance, and a city parking garage. McDowell2The block of McDowell bordering the park is lined on the right by a surface parking lot, the News & Observer offices, and the professional building. The third block is lined on the left by the police headquarters (future Enforcement Center site) and a city parking deck. The right side of the street is a block-long, blank grey wall formed by AT&T’s windowless switching center (pictured).

As one can imagine from the photos, pedestrians in two of the blocks nearest Nash Square have a boring, miserable experience. There is nothing to do, traffic is roaring, and wind howels down through the concrete canyon.

McDowell3 The City of Raleigh released concepts for a new high-rise Enforcement Center to be located across from this long blank wall. While the planned facility is intended for functional municipal uses, the City finds itself in a position to start correcting one of downtown’s biggest missed opportunities.  Design of the east facade of the center should contain space for items pedestrians can use. This block between Hargett and Morgan will be heavily traveled by Campbell Law students en route to courthouse activities, so there will soon be demand for cafes, book stores, coffee shops, office supply stores, and the like.

A second step toward correcting this block is for AT&T to move their operations to another site. Certainly today’s microtechnology doesn’t require such a massive complex, and could either be rearranged on site or relocated off-site. The classic building at McDowell and Morgan could either be renovated or replaced with something more conducive to downtown life.

Mr. Mayor, tear down these walls.

As other projects are constructed throughout downtown, designers need to be mindful of the puzzle piece they are designing. The next part of this series will identify potential problem areas for pedestrian design throughout downtown.


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  • Rafe Said:

    The other day I was walking down Davie Street from Fayetteville St to The Pit and definitely did not enjoy walking by the south side of the building with the county jail that has the ambulance dispatch on it. It’s stunning how unwelcoming the effect you’re talking about is. (As far as I’m concerned, Wilmington Street ends at Davie St for that reason as well.)

    Great observations.

  • Lisa Jeffries Said:

    I’ve always thought that AT&T building would be miserable to be inside of… no windows?! WTF.

  • Rafe Said:

    I’ve wondered if that AT&T building is occupied not by people in offices but by machine rooms with telephone switching equipment. I can’t imagine people work on the windowless floors.

  • Ernest Said:


    I think you touched all the important points. DT Raleigh does have a few areas where immediate improvement is needed to remove that horrible appearance we see in the photos you posted. Out of all the areas you mentioned, I think that the one near Two Progress Plaza is the most promising. Not only Site One, but two more sites may help improve the overall picture: 1) the lot adjacent to Lincoln Theater (owned by Empire Properties) and 2) the lot adjacent to One Progress Plaza, owned by Progress Energy. These two can change significantly the fabric of that location. Of course, adding some destinations to the ground level of the parking deck would be ideal :)

  • chuck till Said:

    The AT&T building is indeed filled with equipment. But more importantly, there are tens of thousands of copper wires and probably a hundred fiber optic cables that come up out of the ground into this building. It would cost a fortune to relocate this facility.

  • gogoraleigh.com» Blog Archive » Designing A Better Downtown: Part III Said:

    […] Designing A Better Downtown – Part II […]

  • Ron B Said:

    Sorry to be late to the “party”, but the Wilmington face of the city’s Convetion Center parking deck *can* be converted to retail fronts. You can see where the wall can be “punched out” in the second Wilmington St. picture, which could be close enough to connect to Fins at the Wilmington/Davie corner.

    Also there are two storefronts behind the photographer in that picture in the base of BoA/One Hannover. One is currently used as a Hannover fitness center and the other is “avaiable”. And Site One will hopefully add to street life here, though its renderings always showcase the F Street side.

    In the AT&T building, there is some office space on the Hargett side, though it always seems empty. They coudl daylight some of the McDowell side, at least at street level, with glass on upper levels to give some kind of feel to the block. The N&O will do something with their block eventually, which could either enliven the McDowell raceway, or turn it into a superspeedway.

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