Back in business... For real!!!

After a very long absence - no, I never left Raleigh - and the incredibly disappointing lack of updates on urban development in our area, I am finally returning, and this time I hope to keep my promise to you, faithful visitors and supporters of RaleighMSA.com, who sent me many emails regarding the status of this website.

The first place to visit is the New Projects - Downtown Raleigh section, the very thing that made this website popular in the early days. While still not complete in functionality, it is filled with all the projects I could think of and their latest status. I will definitely add more information, including renderings for each project.

Our "new" skyline

With the completion of RBC Plaza and Mariott Hotel most of us expected a transformation unlike anything else since 1991, when the two "bookends" were completed. To some, this transformation fell short of expectations, mainly because of Marriott Hotel's mediocre design and its minor impact to the landscape. I will be the first to agree that while it is good to have a 4-star facility, with all the associated, high-end amenities, the new convention hotel proved to be too little and unworthy of the great location that was offered to the hotel developer. Too late to change this, so let's take the new hotel's little positive impact to our city's dynamic image and hope that our city leaders will never make such mistake again.

In the following photo you can see the skyline as it appears today from the Boylan Ave Bridge. If you place the mouse over the image below you will see the skyline prior to the transformation (Javascript support needs to be activated in your browser, if it isn't already, in order to see both images):


The view from the Boylan Ave bridge got a little better.

Many of us anticipate the image above to change significantly once The Edison, Charter Square (Site 1), Clarence Lightner Public Safety Center and Wake County Justice Center get built. Assuming the lending industry begins to actually lend money again...

What's new?

The Good
Raleigh remained strong in terms of growth. While my focus has been mainly on Downtown, I cannot ignore that the latter is not the only area to see construction activity, growth in population and addition of new businesses. One of the finest examples of growth outside the core is North Hills East, the extention of the New North Hills vision, which is shaping up to be a great redevelopment effort. Also interesting is the growth in the Brier Creek Village Center and Renaissance Park areas, both following some of the good urban guidelines we want to see enforced throughout our city. Downtown still gets the bulk of development and attention, though. Sure, the economic slow-down has affected our prosperous city, but we are in a far better position to bounce back than many other areas across the country.

The Bad
Where can I begin? Every now and then we hear the media talking about local projects that appear to be heading nowhere, as a result of the whole lending mess. What is the status? For many of them, unknown, at best. Some of these projects are actually moving forward, but slowly, while others may have to be pronounced dead (that is "The Ugly" part). I am in the process of getting in touch with the developers and "beg" them for some honest answers. I tried in the past, but in vain. Let's hope this time around I will have more luck. Whatever I hear from those developers I will share with y'all.

Tough to admit it, but the lending crisis has forced many developers to take another look at their projects and either alter them or delay their construction. The groundbreaking of the Edison and the 20-story North Tower of the Charter Square project are two of the many projects that depend on the "better days" of the lending sector. While no specifics have been revealed, One Glenwood and Winston Tower, both important for the revitalization of Hillsborough Street (the downtown stretch) are also stalled. Along with the aforementioned visions, smaller projects, like the L Building, Bloomsbury Estates 2, 111 Seaboard and Moore Square Apartments have hit more obstacles than we can imagine, and the list grows longer every month. Outside downtown, the much anticipated Lassiter (in North Hills) and the proposed Cameron Village mixed-use midrise were postponed, although for different reasons.

The number of projects with unknown status includes the famous Soleil Center, 630 North, Boylan Flats and The Glen on Peace. Last I heard of, the developers of Soleil Center wanted to work in phases, starting with the hotel portion. 630 North is being redesigned to include a hospitality component instead of condos. The other two entries are probably dead, but no final confirmation.

The Ugly
Since our last communication, we saw the "collapse" of two projects that most of us were looking forward to: The Hillsborough and Lafayatte. While both were similar in nature, each one was unique in its purpose and goals.

The Hillsborough, after almost 10 years in the designing process, was doomed to its death by the growing pains in the lending market. Without making the numbers, local developers and downtown enthusiasts Ted and & David Reynolds were forced to give up their great vision, which was scaled down a few times, going from 31, to 27, to 23 floors.

Several blocks South of The Hillsborough, another great vision was ended. Local developer Greg Hatem - and his company, Empire Properties - after altering the size of Lafayette and breaking its construction into two phases, felt the consequences of the finance industry's crisis. No money for Lafayette, either.

Last, but not least, it came as a disappointment that the developer of the residential mid-rise of the CAM (Contemporary Art Museum) project pulled out of the deal. While this vision had not moved as far as the two aforementioned projects, it was a great effort to bring residents to the Warehouse District and I surely hope that CAM's management will consider revisiting this idea when the economic climate improves.

Coming up: Urban Raleigh series

Sometimes, in the spirit of competition and through heated - but civil - debates, good ideas are born and people become very creative. Or at least they become doers and not talkers. I have two online acquaintances (James and Becky, from Charlotte) to thank for the inspiration they provided me for a two-part series on Raleigh's perceived and/or existing urbanity I am planning to publish. People who wish to know whether our city actually offers urban neighborhoods, or not, will benefit significantly from these two articles.

In the first part, I will examine Downtown Raleigh. This will probably be a very easy part, as downtowns across our nation normally offer a better urban experience. While high-rise living may be in its infancy, downtown living in Raleigh has been around for a very long time, even after the bulk of Raleigh's population moved out of the center, to the suburbs of our city. The most exciting part is the upcoming projects, some of which have been having troubles taking off due to the current market conditions. Nevertheless, there is already a great number of residential projects under construction, enough to maintain our interest and excitement, and they will be presented, along with the existing options.

The second part will be a bit more of a challenge, as I will try to show urbanity outside downtown, whether 10 feet or 10 miles away from the latter. Surprisingly, Raleigh contains some older urbanity, but it does fall short when comparing it to more established urban centers. There is a lot of hope for fixing some of the mistakes of the past, and we can see today efforts to make Raleigh more walkable and denser. Public transportation in our city is still inadequate, but many other elements of urbanity are evident to those who actually live in Raleigh. Neighborhoods closer to Downtown have the privilege of being situated on the older grid, while neighborhoods in North Raleigh, the most populous section of our city, maintain a more suburban character. Nevertheless, I will examine both good and bad elements and let you draw your own conclusions.

Finally, something on nightlife!!!

No discussions on urbanity can ignore this great component: Nightlife. While people who live in competing cities may find themselves engaged in endless and fruitless discussions on which city offers more, there is one condition that must be satisfied before even engaging into such debates. Good nightlife options are a must for EVERY city that prides itself as a fast growing urban center. Without decent nightlife destinations, we lose the debate before it even begins.


A typical busy night at Glenwood South.

For a while now I was debating whether this site was the right place to present nightlife options in the Capital City, but there are local enthusiasts who have done a phenomenal job in their blogs, already, so I decided to remain distant from entering their territory. On the other hand, when I read Jane Hobson Snyder's article, Downtown Raleigh's new R-Line bus will drive you to drink—and eat, in the Independent Weekly, I thought that such an article is a gem and deserves to be saved for future reference. I normally remain neutral in presenting someone else's work on the main page, but this is an exception I can justify. I could not do a better job myself. I must admit I want to see more photos of the street-level activity, but then again nobody stops me from doing this myself :) Maybe some day I will...

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