Ten Years of Change
Ten years ago. Fayetteville Street had just reopened to traffic. The Raleigh Convention Center wasn’t complete. And patients were still being treated at Dorothea Dix Hospital. It’s been a decade of change in the capital city, and much of it has taken place with bricks and mortar.
By Carla Turchetti
Photos courtesy of North Hills
“The extensive amount of development in Downtown and Midtown has been unprecedented for Raleigh in the last 10 years,” says Charles Meeker, former Mayor of Raleigh from 2001 to 2011, and a member of Raleigh City Council for eight years prior to that.
David Diaz served as president and CEO of the Downtown Raleigh Alliance, a nonprofit advocacy group, for the last decade. He says he can pinpoint the flash point of the change downtown.
“Early on, the transformation of Fayetteville Street into a multi-modal main street combined with the construction of the Raleigh Convention Center were the two most impactful projects,” Diaz says. “They ushered in the revitalization of downtown.”
Diaz, who recently left the Downtown Raleigh Alliance for a job in Virginia, says another key factor in revitalization was the commitment businesses made to downtown.
“The relocation of Red Hat’s goal headquarters, the regional headquarters at Citrix and the growth of HQ Raleigh in downtown Raleigh, transformed it from a government center into a dynamic center of technology, innovation and startups.”
To see some of the dramatic changes in Raleigh, just look up. The tallest building downtown is PNC Plaza, which opened in 2008. The tallest residential building is Skyhouse Apartments, which opened in 2014. The tallest building in Midtown is the 17-story Captrust Tower that was completed in 2009. The advent of these taller buildings has changed the look of the city’s skylines. And new, mixed-use high-rises combine retail space, office space, and residential space.
“Midtown has really risen to become part of our skyline to be both home for people as well a place for shopping and dining,” says Meeker.
Some of the people who live near all the North Hills development have had a front-row seat to all of the change. The neighborhood of Lakemont was formed during the 1950s, at about the time the shopping area that would later become the two-story North Hills Mall was being built. Kevin LeCount, who has been a Lakemont resident since 2001 and is active in the community as president of the board of directors at Lakemont Swim and Tennis Club, has watched the development unfold.
“The massive changes to the neighborhood have not changed the character of Lakemont,” LeCount says. Yes, some homes now have skyscrapers in their sight path, but it is an exciting development. It doesn’t change the way you live and interact with your neighbor in Lakemont. The feel of the Lakemont neighborhood has only improved since the development has sprung up around us. We still love our neighbors and our neighborhood, and we still have an award-winning, outstanding magnet elementary school as well as a magnet middle school here in Lakemont.
LeCount says his neighborhood is not a suburb of all the activity of North Hills; he believes it stands on its own. And the neighborhood swim club is more successful than ever because, in addition to major renovations that were completed two years ago, the growth of North Hills is a positive.
“There is a turnover to a younger, more family-oriented demographic in the Lakemont neighborhood, replacing older homeowners who had empty nests. The success of the North Hills developments in general is making homes in Lakemont more desirable,” LeCount says.
And with every new building and older home renovation, there are more options that make downtown Raleigh a very livable place.
“There are a lot more condominiums and apartments than there were 10 years ago, as well as many more restaurants and nightspots,” Meeker says.
Places to Go and Things to Do
North Hills offers options for shopping, working, exercising, living, and dining out. And Diaz says eating out is one of the key reasons why downtown has grown as a destination.
“The proliferation of dining – in one year alone 50 restaurants opened – coupled with the emergence of local, talented chefs such as Ashley Christensen and Cheetie Kumar, elevated downtown into a desirable location for people of all ages and tastes.”
On the online review site TripAdvisor, diners have left their comments about more than 1,440 restaurants in Raleigh.
The Next Ten Years
So what is ahead for Raleigh in the next ten years? Former mayor Meeker says the new building will continue.
“The trend toward more urban development is likely to be more pronounced during the next ten years, so we’ll see even more tall buildings and apartments and condominiums near the focal areas,” Meeker says.
Diaz agrees that more and more people will make their homes in downtown in the upcoming decade.
“A critical mass of downtown dwellers, some 10,000, will make downtown a bona fide neighborhood,” Diaz says. “The surge in hotel development will elevate downtown’s role as a tourist center. And the completion of the transit station, bike share stations and related transportation projects will link downtown to the rest of the Triangle like never before,” Diaz says.
And Diaz says watch out for the planned aerial tram connecting the Red Hat Amphitheater, which opened up in 2010 downtown, to the new Dix Park.
“It will create that distinctive amenity we lack now,” Diaz says. “That will provide the signature photo for Raleigh’s skyline to be recognized on the national scene.”
Dix Park is the 300-plus acres that once housed the Dorothea Dix Hospital. The city bought it from the state for $52 million and the same company that designed Brooklyn Bridge Park in New York has been charged with bringing Raleigh’s vision of a central park into reality.
“We have recently selected our park consultant and are beginning the planning phase for Dix Park,” Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane says. “While it is too early to say what the park will look like in 10 years, we do know we are creating one of the great civic spaces that will help define Raleigh. Like much of the city that will both benefit and struggle with growth in the coming decade, we will look to balance the development of the park to meet the needs of the growing population while also preserving the character and history that makes the park unique to Raleigh.”
THEN & NOW
Legendary bar and sandwich joint Sadlack’s Heroes stood across from the NC State Bell Tower for four decades, drawing faithful lunch regulars and featuring prominently in the early years of musicians like Ryan Adams and Whiskeytown. Comedian Zach Galifianakis, who attended NC State (without graduating, though) used to swing by just for the memories.
At the end of 2013, Sadlack’s closed; today, an Aloft Hotel stands in its place.
RED HAT AMPHITHEATRE
Back in 2007, Walnut Creek Amphitheatre was the only Raleigh amphitheatre. Many North Carolinians owe their cherished first concert memories to Walnut Creek (for the author of this piece it was Pearl Jam, in August 1998), yet there was room, too, for a stage of comparable size downtown.
In summer 2010, the Raleigh Amphitheater opened; by 2012, Red Hat had scored the naming rights. In its seven years, it’s been responsible for even more cherished concert memories (for the author of this piece, the September 2013 Sigur Rós show stands out).
ITB and OTB – two abbreviations that mean a world of difference within Raleigh (and may just turn to gibberish once you’re outside of Wake County). Over the past decade, North Hills has grown substantially, becoming a gateway of sorts between the two sides of the Beltline.
Wake Tech Northern Wake Campus
Wake Tech’s Northern Wake Campus opened 10 years ago, rendering classes at the community college much more accessible to students in North Raleigh. Not only are all buildings on this campus LEED-certified (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), but it was the first college or university in the US to have such a distinction.
RALEIGH BY THE YEAR
2007: Wake Tech’s Northern Wake Campus opens; Big Boss Brewing opens; First issue of Midtown prints in May.
2008: Raleigh Convention Center opens.
2009: U2 plays Carter-Finley Stadium as part of the band’s high-tech, high-concept 360° Tour.
2010: Inaugural Hopscotch Music Festival; Red Hat Amphitheater opens (as Raleigh Amphitheater).
2011: Modern art museum CAM Raleigh opens downtown; Raleigh is struck by a damaging, deadly tornado.
2012: The Nature Research Center wing of the Museum of Natural Science, featuring the multi-story Daily Planet globe that immediately became a Jones Street landmark, opens in April.
2013: James B. Hunt Jr. Library opens at NC State University’s Centennial Campus; IBMA moves its Wide Open Bluegrass street festival to Raleigh.
2014: The infamous Raleigh “snowpocalypse” photo, featuring a car on fire on snowy, shut-down Glenwood Avenue, goes viral.
2015: NC Museum of Art begins yearlong expansion of NCMA Park, including a new elliptical lawn, promenade, and contemporary gardens; the Rolling Stones play Carter-Finley Stadium.
2016: NC State University’s retro-futuristic, endearing, and quirky (or infamous and hideous, depending on who you ask) Harrelson Hall is demolished.
2017: Raleigh turns 225.
Raleigh Live Music
When Mark Connor moved to Raleigh in the start of 2008, Raleigh wasn’t the live music mecca it is today. True, he could catch a showmany nights a week at Slim’s, The Pour House, Lincoln Theatre, or Humble Pie, which had occasional shows; yet the programming just didn’t have the consistency it does today. Kings, the prior downtown music hub, had been demolished to make way for the Convention Center, and its second iteration wouldn’t open until 2010. As a result, Raleigh music-lovers would drive to Chapel Hill to see shows at a higher frequency than today. Yet some things, such as Thursday nights’ Local Band Local Beer at the original Tir na nOg, were early steps toward Raleigh becoming a music destination in and of itself.
“The scene was interesting and obviously ready to grow, though,” Connor says. “You could see [bands] at Tir na nOg on Thursdays. It seemed like our whole scene started their Thursday nights there.” A lot of times, Connor would be there the whole time: those were good bills, he recalls.
By 2009, he was booking at Slim’s (today he manages the bar and venue and also owns The Cave in Chapel Hill), giving him front-row seats to the moment everything crystallized. “I really think that Hopscotch was what changed everything,” he says. “I think it changed Raleigh in a much broader sense than just our music scene represents, but that’s a study for another day.”
Without the organizers of that first festival – Greg Lowenhagen, Grayson Currin, and Paul Siler – he doesn’t believe the Raleigh music scene would have exploded as it has. The three-day music fest, the first year of which was headlined by rap legend Public Enemy, put Raleigh on the map for touring musicians, he says, and encouraged a more diverse audience as well. Jump forward to 2017, and he feels like Raleigh is in good hands with Catie Yerkes at Slim’s, Frank Meadows at Kings, Adam Lindstaedt at The Pour House, Chris Malarkey at Lincoln Theatre, and Daniel Tomas at the new Ruby Deluxe. Today, too, Local Band Local Beer survives at The Pour House.
“Raleigh was cool when I moved here in 2008, but it’s a way cooler place for music now,” says Connor. “I hope we can look back in another 10 years and say the same thing.”
Since 2007, we’ve lost The Brewery, Southland Ballroom, Berkeley Cafe (as a music venue), Tir na nOg (first location), Kings (first location), DIVEbar, Volume 11, Marsh Woodwinds, and Sadlack’s Heroes. On the bright side, we’ve gained Red Hat Amphitheatre, Kings Barcade, Neptunes Parlour, The Maywood, Ruby Deluxe, Deep South the Bar.
New festivals include Hopscotch Music Festival and IBMA’s Wide Open Bluegrass. The following survivors were around in 2007 and are still going strong, if not growing: The North Carolina Symphony, SPARKcon (which has a dedicated music portion), Slim’s Downtown Distillery, Lincoln Theatre, and The Pour House.
If 2007 saw the start of Midtown, it saw the start of Raleigh beer, at least as we know it today. That’s the year Big Boss Brewing Company opened, and brewer John Pyburn started with them that same year. “There wasn’t an option 10 years ago in Raleigh to professionally brew, as there weren’t any other breweries around,” he recalls. “I dabbled in home brewing with college buddies, but nothing serious.”
In Raleigh itself, Lonerider Brewing Company opened in 2008, notes Erik Lars Myers, founder, CEO and head brewer at Mystery Brewing Company and co-author of two editions of North Carolina Craft Beer and Breweries; everyone else opened after 2010, mirroring a statewide craft beer explosion. In the first edition of Myers’ book, there were 45 North Carolina breweries. By 2016, when the second edition was published, the number had grown to 140 (and growing), with the greater Triangle boasting a total of 48 breweries by 2017, according to Lisa Parker of the NC Craft Brewers Guild. In Raleigh, newcomers include downtown cycling-oriented hotspot (and
social hub) Crank Arm Brewing, northeast Raleigh’s Compass Rose Brewery, the cleverly named Clouds Brewing, and Trophy Brewing Co. on Maywood.
Raleigh Food Trucks
A gradual easing of food truck regulations over the past decade has resulted in more of these mobile restaurants around Raleigh – and higher visibility. One Raleigh food truck, Pho Nomenal Dumpling, even won season six of Food Network’s Great Food Truck Race reality show in 2015.
Raleigh of The Future
“The future success of cities in the 21st century will most likely be judged by their ability to adapt and meet the challenges presented by global climate change and the need to become more sustainable in their form and function,” reads The 2030 Comprehensive Plan for the City of Raleigh. Under the name “Greenprint Raleigh,” conservation, energy efficiency, and sustainable development are one of the 474-page report’s six themes. The 2030 plan also suggests creating formally designated arts districts, some of which, such as the area around Moore Square, already fill that de facto role.
Dorothea Dix Park, though, will come sooner than 2030. Its 308 acres, which the City of Raleigh acquired in 2015, are slated to become a destination park. The shape of this eventual park is still in flux, as the planning process only really began in earnest this year. Yet it’s in accomplished hands: landscape architect Michael Van Valkenburgh was tapped earlier in 2017 to create Dix Park’s master plan. His impressive CV includes Brooklyn Bridge Park, Chicago’s Maggie Daley Park, and the presidential centers of both Barack Obama and George W. Bush.