'We don't need to be rezoned': ShawU district protesters pack city council meeting

Wednesday, April 5, 2023
City council hears impassioned opinions on Shaw rezoning request
Tensions hit a boiling point as protesters and Shaw officials came face to face.

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- In the latest controversy over the ShawU District, more than 140 people signed up to speak in opposition to this rezoning plan at Tuesday night's Raleigh City Council meeting.

Shaw University is calling the rezoning effort "a win" for the school and its students -- while opponents argued the plan would destroy history and cede power to those developers.

"We don't need to be rezoned. We need better management," said Eugene Myrick, founder of Save Our Shaw, a coalition of 2,000 members created in direct response to Shaw University's rezoning request.

It was a boots-on-the-ground effort for Myrick and several others who spent their weekend passing out more than 500 fliers to those living in the neighborhood around the HBCU.

"There is no plan. They're saying just trust us. Why would we trust you all when you have a track record of distrust?" questioned Myrick.

More than 140 people signed up to speak in opposition to the proposed ShawU district in Raleigh.

According to Myrick, he's heard empty promises from university leadership. He is referencing an update to the campus radio station WSHA that never happened before it was sold. Additionally, there is a dormitory that is empty and the campus mosque has shut down.

"Now all of a sudden when they want to rezone and use that space, it's under the guise of only students. Even if it's students only, it should be open for them," said Sarah Quadri, who used to worship there.

The temperature inside that city council meeting ran understandably hot Tuesday night for many who voiced their opinions -- it seems this debate doesn't just surround the fate of what school officials call the ShawU District but rather the future of Shaw University

Tensions hit a boiling point as protesters and Shaw officials came face to face.

The trustees are broken. they've been using the university as a piggy bank for years. next slide please," said one protester who spoke at the meeting.

Dr. Paulette Dillard, Shaw University president made her case for why the move is a shrewd one for the university.

"This rezoning plan is the first step in that initiative to leverage our one great asset, and that is the real estate that Shaw has," Dillard said.

The opposition wasn't buying it.

"It doesn't benefit the university, and it could literally erase this Black neighborhood in southeast Raleigh, displacement, gentrification, I could go on and on," said Kesha Monk, a 1995 Shaw graduate. "But it's time that people know what's really going on. Shaw's going to cash out if City

Council allows this to go through."

Shaw University said its ShawU District rezoning request reimagines the possibilities for the HBCU that sits adjacent to the heart of downtown Raleigh. It would lease parts of campus to developers for modern retail, office and residential space.

The consulting firm, Hayat Brown, is overseeing this plan. Their website states that it would revitalize university facilities, diversify revenue streams, reinvest in the neighborhood and improve connectivity to downtown.

"I like it. I'm in favor of it," said Guiherme Ferriera, a resident living in the community. "I'm from a big city anyway. I'm from Rio De Janeiro so I'm used to tall buildings. I think it's bound to happen everywhere else. Look at the warehouse district where it was five years ago. I think that's happening to this neighborhood as well."

While he's looking ahead to the future of downtown Shaw University alumni like Myrick are not.

"Just stop the rezoning period and come back to the table with alumni, community stakeholders, faculty and students," he said.

The council did not vote on the rezoning request and deferred the issue to its May 2 meeting in part, to gather more public feedback.