About Downtown Raleigh
The summary below was copied from the downtown chapter in Raleigh’s 2030 Plan Downtown provides a comprehensive overview of the central business district. The sub-titles were added by our staff to provide more context into the types of information provided by the downtown chapter. For more information on the entire contents of this chapter, click here.
With a population of over 405,000, Raleigh is the second largest city in the Carolinas. It is also the fastest growing major city in the state, adding more than 10,000 residents annually. The rapidly expanding Raleigh metro area, with 1,235,000 residents, has more than doubled its population since 1970. Downtown Raleigh is comprised of 110 blocks, while the city of Raleigh covers 126 square miles.
Historic Center of Raleigh
The Downtown Raleigh office market is comprised of about six million square feet of commercial office space concentrated around the Fayetteville Street District. Roughly fifty-percent of the space is multi-tenant space. The office occupancy rate is one of the healthiest in the region, hovering over ninety percent.
Downtown is the historic, functional and symbolic heart of Raleigh. It contains the largest concentration of government and commercial buildings in Raleigh, and lies at the nexus of the City’s roadway and public transportation networks. It is the seat of government for the County and State as well as the
municipality. More cultural venues, attractions and events are located in Downtown than any other area of the region. More recently, it has become a fast-growing residential neighborhood.
The Downtown skyline is the signature image appearing on City and regional public information and marketing materials, as well as on the many articles written about Raleigh in national publications. A healthy, vital, and growing Downtown is therefore essential to Raleigh’s sustainability, quality of life, and future economic competitiveness.
Raleigh’s geographic limits were originally established by the William Christmas Plan of 1792 within North, East, South, and West Streets, which defined the extent of the walkable city at that time. Now, of course, the area regarded as downtown stretches beyond those original boundaries. The Christmas Plan also provided a simple urban design hierarchy containing a dominant street grid with 66’ rights-of-way, a strong axis of four 99' wide streets emanating from the State Capitol, four public park-like squares, and a central six-acre square designed to serve as the Capitol grounds. Among the axial boulevards, Fayetteville Street, extending southward from the Capitol was intended to be the high street of the city. Fayetteville Street is home to Raleigh’s most significant urban design feature, the terminated vistas that spotlight the Capitol and the Performing Arts Center.
Although the City has grown and developed, Downtown still maintains many of the defining urban design features established by the Christmas Plan. The area regarded as Downtown Raleigh today currently spans approximately 754 acres, or 1.18 square miles. The geographic area that encompasses
Downtown constitutes less than one percent of Raleigh’s incorporated area. However, as has occurred since the early part of the twentieth century, the area considered Downtown will continue to expand, and the close-in areas surrounding Downtown are the most likely geographic targets for such an expansion.
Emerging Economic Center of Triangle Region
Despite its relatively small size, Downtown is emerging as the center of the Triangle region. Regional growth patterns are shifting eastward, placing downtown closer to the center of the region's urbanized land mass as projected to 2030. Significant infrastructure investments such as the multi-modal
transportation center will render Downtown the destination point for thousands of daily commuters originating from places near and far. As a major employment center within the region, an estimated 37,500 daytime employees fill approximately 5.1 million square feet of commercial office space and 5.2 million square feet of governmental office space.
Approximately one-third of the employment base is governmental; as a capital city, the downtown area houses four layers of government: city, county, state, and federal government. The major nodes of office space are oriented between Wilmington and Salisbury Streets, with the State government occupying the majority of the northern half of Downtown while the private sector populates the southern half. As a complement to the office space, the Downtown has made significant strides in growing a residential base.
Center for Living
Approximately 2,600 multifamily units are located within Downtown, and the housing typology ranges from college dorms to luxury condominiums, and many other housing types in-between. As a tax generator, Downtown generates approximately 7.3 percent of the property tax base while occupying less than half a percent of all developable property within Raleigh. The City has a significant number of new public and private development projects that will increase Downtown’s vitality, provide new uses and services, and transform the skyline. By 2012, these new developments are projected to infuse approximately $2.5 billion into Downtown and will support additional housing, retail, service, and entertainment uses in the future. The following summary highlights the recent development trends across Downtown Raleigh.
Recent development has concentrated around four areas, including: the Seaboard area adjacent to Peace College; around Glenwood Avenue between Peace and Hillsborough Streets; around Fayetteville Street between Morgan and Lenoir Streets; and the area just west of Nash Square. Most recently, land assembly and development proposals have revealed a future focus along Hillsborough Street between Dawson Street and Glenwood Avenue. Looking forward, additional significant development activity is expected in the Warehouse district surrounding the proposed multi-modal transportation center,
and in the northeast corner of Downtown via the 21-acre Blount Street Commons project. Outside of historic preservation efforts, very few new developments have occurred within the City’s historic core – the original squares of the Christmas plan.
The most common redevelopment activity in the historic core of Downtown comes in the form of one and two-story buildings slated for historic preservation / adaptive reuse to accommodate more active ground-floor uses such as retailers, bars, and restaurants. More than two dozen such buildings are either being restored or have been within the last five years. These deals dictate a bullish confidence that Downtown Raleigh will continue to emerge as a destination, currently for dining and entertainment, but ultimately as retail.
The prevailing development model in Downtown Raleigh is mixed-use, with some combination of for-sale residential condominiums, office space, and ground-floor retail space. Year after year, each successive project allocates a greater portion of the building’s ground-floor to active users. That trend
is indicative of an increasingly positive outlook regarding the market for retail in Downtown Raleigh. Additionally, newer residential projects have also increased in size; residential projects completed within the past three years averaged about 70 units per development, whereas the
residential projects currently under construction average about 125 units per development. The trend towards mixed-use can be characterized as a significant departure from the development paradigm of the early 2000s.
The Future is Bright
The upward trend in Downtown Raleigh’s revitalization has resulted in significant economic, fiscal, civic, and cultural gains for Raleigh. Strong job growth, commercial and residential development, and significant public projects have helped Downtown establish a competitive edge and
become a net revenue generator for Raleigh. The remarkable growth and improved quality of Downtown between 2003 and 2008 is due in part to successful public-private partnerships, courageous private sector leadership, and a commitment by the City to invest in Downtown’s future through strategic projects intended to leverage private sector investment.
The confluence and complexities of uses, scale, activities, and physical spaces in the Downtown require a finer level of specificity than can be achieved using only the city-wide policies that appear elsewhere in the Comprehensive Plan. The Downtown Element outlines a collection of
development values and strategic initiatives that address vibrancy, walkability, place making, and other methods designed to create a prized urban center for Raleigh citizens, a commercial nucleus within the Triangle region, and model of sustainability for cities of the southeastern United
States. While most of the city-wide policies are relevant and applicable to the Downtown, this element includes policies intended to address downtown-specific issues and ways to encourage downtown investment to ensure a healthy economic, cultural, and symbolic heart of the City.