Local News

S.C. City Could Play Important Role In Raleigh's Future

Posted March 4, 2004

— For 27 years, nothing but foot traffic has traveled down Raleigh's Fayetteville Street Mall. In recent years, there hasn't been much of that.

"The fact that few people are there makes it an unfriendly place to be," said Raleigh Planning Director George Chapman.

In January, Raleigh's city council voted to take out the mall. The goal was to breathe new life into Raleigh's downtown and change it to something more like Greenville, S.C., where there always is hustle and bustle.

"It's a very dynamic and aggressive downtown with a vision," Greensboro developer Roy Carroll said.

Delegations from other cities visit Greenville often looking for ways to improve their downtowns. Raleigh city planners also have been here and have called it a model for what they want to do in the Triangle.

"Our downtown, from end to end, is like one big open cafe," Greenville Mayor Knox White said.

Said Chapman: "Greenville has that 24-hour-a-day feel to it."

But it took almost 24 years to make it happen.

"It's been a long-term process that we have now," Greenville Economic Development Director Nancy Whitworth said. "It didn't happen overnight. The leaders had vision and patience to stick to it for a long period to have success."

White said: "I don't think you can have serious retail until you have serious residential. For the past five or six years, we have focused on getting residential development."

Today, condominiums are going up everywhere in downtown Greenville. But White said much of the vision is in the details -- benches, signs, landscaping and parking.

It is an equation that is working for local merchants.

"This space is very special," said Aimon Koera, owner of a yoga studio. "There's lots of activity, cars, fun, restaurants, bars, entertainment."

There are 70 restaurants in downtown Greenville. Carl Sobocinski has opened three in the past seven years and said they have exceeded his expectations.

"We banked on the fact that the momentum would continue year after year," Sobocinski said. "We wanted to invest our resources downtown instead of near the mall."

Raleigh leaders are banking on the same approach. They hope businesses gamble on their vision to restore the heart of their city.

"It should be a place where everyone in the community gathers and can all find something that turns them on," Chapman said.

The Raleigh council has not decided how to pay for the downtown project. Opening up the Fayetteville Street Mall will cost about $9 million, and contracts will be awarded in May.

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