Hubs in Motion
Triangle anchors that keep people coming and going.
By David Droschak
Banner photo by Willa Stein
With more than 65 people moving to Wake County every day, keeping pace in the Triangle can be a challenge. Moving from Point A to Point B on a daily basis is essential for work, leisure, and travel activities.
A reason this area is so attractive for so many across the country—and those living in our proverbial backyard—are our hubs: an outstanding international airport, convention center, and now a brand new train hub. Getting to and from Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill has never been easier, or filled with as many outstanding options.
Here is a look at three hubs in motion that keep those of us living in one of the nation’s most vibrant places coming and going.
Raleigh Convention Center
Celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, the Raleigh Convention Center has made more than a dent in the local economy. The total economic impact for events held in the center during the last decade is $469 million.
“The City of Raleigh and its partners broke ground on the convention center more than a decade ago with high hopes, and in so many ways we’ve exceeded those hopes,” says RCC director of sales Mara Craft. “Consider when we first opened: We sponsored a series of free Raleigh Wide Open street parties to introduce the idea that downtown could be a vibrant destination. Ten years later, festivals like Hopscotch, Wide Open Bluegrass, and others routinely fill our bustling streets—and visitors to the convention center are treated to dozens of nearby restaurants and hot spots, many of which are nationally renowned. We’ve brought legions of people to Raleigh and, in turn, those people not only helped fuel local businesses but spread the word of Raleigh’s appeal.”
Though modern in aesthetic, the RCC was constructed to reflect some of the key design elements of the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts. The same glass and limestone was used in construction of both venues. The reveals located on the front walls of the RCC can be illuminated, accentuating the building’s exterior, presenting a dramatic façade like that of Memorial Auditorium’s regal columns.
The Center’s iconic feature, the Shimmerwall, is also multipurpose—“Not only does its depiction of a commanding oak tree serve as a welcoming representation of Raleigh as the City of Oaks, the wall, sponsored by locally-based company Cree, also hides mechanical infrastructure,” Craft says.
The wall, with its 80,000 four-inch aluminum pixels, was one of the first structures in the City of Raleigh to incorporate LED lighting. The RCC is a LEED Silver–certified building with 20 percent of the materials used in construction manufactured locally, and more than 1.9 million man-hours went into the construction of the center.
“Raleigh is a player in the regional, national, and international markets for many reasons,” Craft said. “Chief among these is the abundance of intellectual capital across business and industry sectors in the region. N.C. State, UNC, Duke, Campbell Law School, [N.C. State’s] Centennial campus, and RTP all add to this appeal. These institutions, coupled with the passionate and collaborative nature of our citizens and businesses, create an environment that attracts meetings and events. And Raleigh is a smart, warm, and welcoming city with the meeting venues, hotels, and airlift to host spectacular conventions and events.”
Raleigh Durham International Airport
There may not be a better success story in terms of transportation needs over the last decade than Raleigh-Durham International Airport. For example, from 2011–17, passenger traffic at RDU has increased 27.7 percent, and the airport has experienced 54 straight months of consecutive growth year-over-year.
“This isn’t a flash in the pan. What we’re experiencing here is real, and so healthy for the community,” says RDU Airport Authority spokeswoman Kristie VanAuken.
RDU boasts 62 daily nonstop flights with 200 departures, servicing an estimated 12 million passengers a year. There are nonstop flights to Paris and London, along with several Caribbean locations.
“We are in this rare group of medium-sized airports that have two daily nonstops aboard main-line carriers to Europe, so that is super cool,” VanAuken says.
RDU has a diverse airline product portfolio, with nine airlines serving the region.
“We’re at a point in our evolution as an airport and as a community that we’re just winning time and time again, and it’s a very exciting thing to be a part of,” VanAuken says. “We have a lot to be proud of as a community and as an airport.”
RDU has the lowest average fare of any airport in the state of North Carolina. “That’s something you’re never going to get at a hub,” VanAuken says.
Raleigh Union Station
Opened in July, Raleigh Union Station is located in Raleigh’s Warehouse District and serves Amtrak access to places such as Charlotte, Miami, and New York City.
“Traveling by train is part of an event, part of an overall experience,” says David Eatman, transit administrator for the City of Raleigh’s Department of Transportation. “The new station just adds to that even more. The experience at Union Station doesn’t just start when you get on the train, it starts when you enter the station—because of [the facility’s] size, scope, and beauty.”
Built at the location of a former steel fabrication plant, Raleigh Union Station recognizes the heritage of the area while mixing in a modern feel.
“People are impressed by the texture of the architecture because it’s a mixture of old and new,” Eatman says. “It is taking that industrial heritage and honoring that, but at the same time providing elements such as LED lighting, cell phone charging stations, radiant floor heating, and green roofs on portions of the facility as well as the concourse. There are also traditional train station benches that you would see throughout the United States; those benches were constructed to replicate that standard at rail stations that has been around for over 100 years.”
The facility also features original steel doors, steel framing, and steel entry cranes with hooks. “One of the cranes carries a five-foot tall railroad stopwatch over the ticketing counter, which has really turned out great,” Eatman says.
Now serving around 500 to 700 daily travelers, Eatman says Raleigh Union Station will satisfy additional needs in the future, such as serving as a hub for a proposed commuter rail system.
“Providing options for all transportation modes is what will really make a successful region in the future,” he says. “And we believe the facility will become more than just a transportation destination in the long term. It will be integrated into the overall warehouse district; it will be a destination within itself.”