Raleigh Wide Open celebrates growth of festival, Fayetteville St.

Posted July 31, 2010 7:08 a.m. EDT
Updated August 1, 2010 8:04 a.m. EDT

— It's a party with a purpose – a celebration of all things downtown.

Thousands turned out Saturday for the Capital City's fifth annual Raleigh Wide Open daylong street festival celebrating the revitalization efforts in the area.

“I love this. It's bringing all the youth, all the people my age, kids, older people, it's bringing them all together. So I like it a lot,” Raleigh resident Jennifer Swinea said of Raleigh Wide Open.

The free party kicked off Saturday morning with a parade on Fayetteville Street and ended at 11 p.m. with a fireworks bonanza.

More than 20 local bands playing all genres – from reggae to soul to country to funk to indie rock – took to three stages, providing a combined total of 20 hours of free music.

The Barenaked Ladies played at the Raleigh Amphitheater, which opened last month.

"I love seeing Raleigh do things like this. Have a big venue downtown, big festivals like this. The more you bring people into downtown, the healthier the city will be," Ed Robertson of Barenaked Ladies said.

There was also arts, food and fun for the entire family from more than 100 vendors.

“It’s just a nice celebration for downtown. People get a chance to see everything and they'll come back during the year after this,” Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker said.

Last year, an estimated 100,000 people attended the daylong event, which coincided with the opening of the $15 million City Plaza on Fayetteville Street.

An estimated 35,000 people attended the city's first Raleigh Wide Open in 2006, which culminated the 16-month, $9.3 million reopening of Fayetteville Street to vehicle traffic.

The historic street had served as a pedestrian mall for 30 years prior.

Fayetteville Street's reopening marked the beginning of a number of changes in the area as part of the city's downtown revitalization efforts.

Those efforts seem to be working. Amanda Fekety, services director with Empire Eats, which oversees the Raleigh Times Bar, said festivals, like Raleigh Wide Open, are bringing more people to downtown.

“We love how every year, it's getting bigger and bigger. It’s spreading further east and west from Fayetteville Street,” Fekety said.

The Downtown Raleigh Alliance reported earlier this year that more than 100 outdoor festivals each year in the area.

“Five years ago, we didn’t even have half that number, so it’s significantly increased," Downtown Raleigh Alliance President David Diaz said in January.