Raleigh mayor takes city hall on field trip to $2 billion Downtown South site

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- A site between South Saunders and South Wilmington Streets, butting up against Interstate 40, requires a lot of imagination.

Raleigh's brand new city council has seen all the pretty renderings of the proposed Downtown South but Raleigh's new mayor, who's a big supporter of the proposal, wanted to gather the entire city leadership team together to walk, see and feel what this 160 acres of nothing could be.

"The idea of going out to Downtown South was to show people what's actually there," said Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin. "And what I saw was the possibility to take something that really is an industrial wasteland and turn it into something magnificent."

The field trip was an opportunity for city council to see a developer's field of dreams to transform the city's southern gateway.

North Hills developer John Kane needs the city to rezone all these acres to build his $2 billion project.

He wants to construct a new neighborhood of office space, retail, 1,200 hotel rooms with a mix of affordable and market rate housing -- anchored by a 20,000 seat soccer stadium for the North Carolina FC and NC Courage.

"I think it would be huge for the city of Raleigh," Kane said -- insisting he's still hopeful about the soccer stadium despite Major League Soccer's decision late last year to choose Charlotte over Raleigh to be the home of the league's new expansion team. Kane's confident NCFC and the star-studded Courage can fill the seats on their own.

"I think we've got the two there. And MLS, we'll see. Raleigh will get it in due time," Kane said.

But to get the project off the ground, Kane also needs city and county leaders to help defer development costs. He's asking for $13 million a year for 20 years from a special Interlocal fund of hotel tourism tax money.

The city wants to know what the return on investment would be. While city leaders wait for a report on that -- ABC11 asked one of the council's newest member, At-Large Councilor Jonathan Melton, which way he was leaning.

"That money can only be used to tourism-generating projects. And I think if Downtown South is fully-realized, it would be a great tourism-generating project. So, my initial thought is, I would be supportive," Melton said.

City leaders remain sensitive to potential criticism about the downsides of gentrification. Melton proclaimed any development needs to happen with equity in mind. And Mayor Baldwin stressed she sees this property as a site for job training including a potential partnership with Wake Tech.
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