A street festival called Raleigh Wide Open culminated the 16-month, $9.3 million project to once again open four blocks of the historic street, which served as a pedestrian mall for nearly 30 years.
Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker rode in a 1957 Chevrolet to mark the first vehicle to travel on the thoroughfare since it closed.
"With the reopening of the street, our city can come back home to Fayetteville Street," Meeker said in an address to the crowd. "Our people are what make Fayetteville Street special. It is a great place to be. It is a great place to be seen."
Opening ceremonies, hosted by WRAL's Greg Fishel and Debra Morgan, kicked off early Saturday evening and ended with the WRAL Fireworks Extravaganza. Live entertainment and street vendors were also part of the festivities.
Spectators began exploring the newly renovated street as early as 4:30 p.m., taking pictures and sitting at outdoor tables. Many longtime Raleigh residents seemed to have a story connected to what was Raleigh's main street.
"All of the good restaurants were on Fayetteville Street," said Ken Peters with the Raleigh City Museum. "If you wanted to see a good motion picture, you went to Fayetteville Street."
The transformation from a roadway to a pedestrian mall in 1976 did not come without controversy. Neither did the conversion back to a street.
"I preferred to have open space to mingle during lunch," said Raleigh resident Barbara Natella. "The construction has been hectic to deal with."
For the past year, construction presented a maze of obstacles, challenges and struggles for visitors and businesses.
"It's that kind of pain when you are looking at the numbers you had, and now it's gone," said business owner Kevin McDaniel.
But downtown advocates have said they believe business will come back as the cars do. Public and private investment on Fayetteville Street alone has topped $400 million.
"The goal was to get the street active and get restaurants on the store fronts," Meeker. "We really had no idea we'd have so much private investment coming in, in terms of office space."
Developer Jim Wiley said the heart of downtown was taken away from its residents in the 1970s, but it's now back.
"This will be part of our city that everybody wants to interact with when they come to Raleigh," said Wiley. "It cannot be overstated how important this investment has been."
Fayetteville Street's reopening marks the beginning of change in the downtown area. Work is also under way to build a new state-of-the art 550,000-sqare-foot convention center, a 1,500-space parking garage and a four-star luxury Marriott Hotel.
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