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Land Dispute Delays Downtown Raleigh Plaza

Posted March 25, 2008
Updated March 26, 2008

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— The City Plaza project next to the new downtown Raleigh convention center has hit yet another snag and won't open this fall as expected, officials said Tuesday.

Officials want the $16 million plaza, which also is near the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts, to become Raleigh's "public living room," offering a gathering place for local residents and a space for public concerts and other events.

The problem is, Raleigh doesn't own the land at the south end of Fayetteville Street that the plaza would sit on, scotching plans for glass retail pavilions, light towers and water fountains on the site soon.

Raleigh sold the land about 20 years ago to encourage downtown development, and The Simpson Organization, a group of investors in Atlanta that also owns the adjacent Bank of America office tower, now controls the plaza site and a parking garage beneath it.

Officials have been negotiating with Simpson for months on the site, but a disagreement over the plaza design has stalled the deal, City Manager Russell Allen said Tuesday.

"It's not just a matter of it being dirt beneath this property. There actually is a functioning underground facility that's owned by someone else," Allen said. "It's a complicated ... legal negotiation. It's a complicated technical and engineering arrangement."

Design plans call for Simpson to build and own four 1,000-square-foot glass pavilions at the four corners of the plaza to house retail shops. Other design elements include four light towers and four water fountains – they allow for changing light patterns and water flows – trees and other shade structures, flexible seating and improved paving.

Allen wouldn't provide specifics about the nature of the dispute, but he said officials are trying to rework easements on the property.

"It really is not a financial dispute," he said. "They understand that (the plaza) adds value to their property. They've never objected to the plaza or the street going through – they've been big supporters. They just have to watch out for their private interest in their building, and we understand that."

Gil Hearn, an asset manager with Simpson, said negotiations center on the plaza's design.

"It outlines the changes that are going to be made to the surface of the plaza, compared to the way it exists now. It allows for the pavilions to be constructed," Hearn said. "It's fair to say there have been hold-ups on both sides of the process."

City officials had hoped to open the plaza and an extension at the south end of Fayetteville Street in September, when the convention center and adjacent Marriott hotel open.

Because of the dispute, Allen said, construction on the plaza likely wouldn't start until this summer, meaning it might not open until 2009.

"We just won't have that public plaza. You won't be able to come from the north down Fayetteville Street to the hotel," he said. "It will be worth the wait. People will be pleased with that public place."

Hearn said he expects a revised agreement to go before the City Council next month.

The plaza's design was delayed for a year in late 2006 after the City Council nixed a design by renowned Spanish artist Jaume Plensa. Officials complained the design would block the view along Fayetteville Street.

Local residents, artists and city officials then held a series of workshops in the ensuing months to hammer out details of a new design, which was adopted last August.


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  • colliedave Mar 26, 2008

    No one has yet help me to understand why the RBC was built in that location out in no man's land with not a single restaurant or niteclub near it. Nothing is near it actually.

    The individual who owned the land sold it for far less than what it would cost to purchase land downtown. The intent was that development would build up around the stadium/arena area.

    For those who whine and moan about the lack of surounding entertaintment, I ask where would you park all the cars of the RBC patrons? And considering they come from all over the Triangle, State, and some from Canada mass transit is not the answer!

  • foetine Mar 26, 2008

    The RBC Center wouldn't have been built if NC State didn't want it. What was Raleigh going to do with a 20,000 seat arena downtown? The Canes didn't leave Hartford until it was in the process of being built.

    Raleigh lost CIAA tourney because Bob Johnson wanted it. He's paying a fortune to host that festival and maintain his standing in the community. Think Jim Rutherford and Meeker care about their standing among minorities? Not like Meeker is going to run for the senate.

    It is stupid that they kept making plans for land they didn't own and thought they'd just stick the bill on the owner....oh wait, that's normal operating procedure in Meekerville.

  • WHEEL Mar 26, 2008

    Russel Allen "This is a complicated technical and engineering arrangment" something like manning and operating garbage trucks? He doesn't have a clue.

  • Gerbil Herder Mar 26, 2008

    And they would've put the parking for the RBC center downtown where?

  • PC is for Losers Mar 26, 2008

    Birds, schmirds.

    As for Crisp - I disagree. Anyone who complains about the greenway and our parks the way he does is just out of touch with the common Raleighite.

  • meh2 Mar 26, 2008

    Plans were "scotched"? That is racist, and such language is very offensive to those of Scottish descent. Shame on you WRAL, for printing such vile hatred on your site.

  • iamforjustice Mar 26, 2008

    No one has yet help me to understand why the RBC was built in that location out in no man's land with not a single restaurant or niteclub near it. Nothing is near it actually.

  • Jermaniac Mar 26, 2008

    Arthur, they still would have to pay them market value for the property.

  • ConcernedNCC Mar 26, 2008

    What kind of moron talks about building on a site for two years before finding out they haven't owned it for 20 years? These are the same people that thought they'd save water by limiting the days of watering, not dreaming that people would just water longer on the limited days. Sheesh.

  • DT70 Mar 26, 2008

    I agree witht the previous post about the RBC Center. If they weren't so cheap back when it was built, and they told NCSU where to stick it, they could have put it downtown and made up the extra cost by having a lot more events. We lost the CIAA because of it. Hockey would be a bigger draw if it was downtown,and the NCAA tournament would have been awesome. They talk about mass transit, yet put an arena out in the middle of nowhere, making people drive to it. Now they want to put a public area which nobody will use? I can't believe nobody ran against Meeker this year.