Possible big ideas for downtown Raleigh

April 24, 2008 5:52:07 PM PDT
Seattle's got the Space Needle. St. Louis has its Arch. San Antonio's got the Riverwalk. And now, Raleigh's looking for its own defining icon -- or, at least, some in the Capital City are searching for one.

Using the motto "no little plans" as guidance, Planning Director Mitchell Silver is leading a series of meetings seeking suggestions for big-picture concepts.

"The big ideas for Raleigh for the next 20 years as we grow," Silver says.

There are several so far that will get consideration as Raleigh re-draws its Comprehensive Plan for growth. That plan is reviewed from time to time and serves as the blueprint for how the city develops. One of the most intriguing ideas is indeed a riverwalk like the one in Texas. Possible locations include just off of Capital Boulevard north of downtown or close to Crabtree Valley Mall.

Another concept getting some traction is to take the privately-owned rock quarry near Duraleigh Road and somehow turn it into a waterfall. It "would be the tallest waterfall in North Carolina," says Silver.

He likes also likes the idea of adding three towers to the city skyline, each potentially at least 60 stories tall.

"We're looking at possibly three because we're a Triangle," suggests Silver. "And have that at different heights so that people, wherever they are driving, can actually know where downtown is." The tallest building downtown -- the RBC building still under construction -- is just more than 30 stories tall.

Other ideas are less grandiose. Some have suggested building an amphitheatre on the Dorothea Dix campus. Others have offered the idea of connecting downtown to the Boylan Heights neighborhood by effectively building roads on top of the railroad corridor that exists there now.

All of the ideas are just that at this point -- ideas, and nothing more. There is no talk yet of cost, or even of feasibility. It's a time to dream big, says Silver.

"We're gonna find out which ones have the most, either gravitas or have the most potential of being developed, and then we'll study it further."

Not all are quite as exuberant. Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker says he hasn't even heard all of the ideas yet; he hadn't gotten wind of the waterfall idea when he spoke with Eyewitness News.

"I don't think we need any one iconic thing, what we really need is the creative environment that we have to have that increased over time," Meeker said.

Silver says he and his staff will make a presentation on several of the ideas, likely at the end of May or early June.

Silver has experience creating unique destinations in other parts of the country. He touts his work along the Harlem waterfront in New York where a dilapidated waterfront which had bus depots and sewage treatment plants was turned into a $35 million destination that has a park and is rejuvenating the area. Silver says he was part of a similar successful "big idea" project in Philadelphia, too.

"Those are some of the examples of the some of the big ideas that people thought were 'pie in the sky', but in fact generate a lot of excitement and now they're being undertaken," Silver says.


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