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Should Other Cities Look To Raleigh For Downtown Inspiration?

An image of downtown Raleigh


Downtown Raleigh is booming and other downtown areas are noticing. According to a recent storyin the Tampa Bay Times, Tampa should model its downtown after Raleigh’s tech-savvy and eco-friendly businesses, efficient mass transit and urban housing for young professionals.

Downtown Raleigh’s regeneration has spanned more than a decade. A boost for the area's renaissance came back in 2002 with the Livable Streets Plan. The downtown initiative revamped the urban area with new walking spaces for residents and employees, along with a circular bus route running through downtown. This encouraged people to live close to where they worked downtown.


Improvements in transit and infrastructure helped Raleigh grow its number of technology hubs, restaurants and apartments. But a strong bump in business came with incentives from local and state governments. For example, the City of Raleigh’s Facade Grant Programhelps businesses and property owners in older commercial areas to upgrade their facilities.


"The perception of what kind of company was going to occupy downtown buildings has completely changed," Ken Bowers, Raleigh's Department of City Planning Director, said in an interview with the Times. "Downtown has historically been lawyers, bankers, insurance and government."


Factors like these helped lured high-tech business like Red Hat and Citrixto locate downtown. In October 2014, Ft. Lauderdale-based Citrixmoved into a renovated 1960s warehouse to give its 700 employees a free-flowing, wall-free workspace complete with conference rooms made out of old shipping containers.

“Raleigh is experiencing tremendous business growth and has firmly established itself as a hub of innovation on the East Coast,” Citrix CEO Mark Templeton said when the office opened.  “We’re focused on attracting top tech talent from the area, and the new space will allow us to showcase the collaborative culture and technology that is integral to the Citrix vision of delivering new ways to empower people to work better.”


Raleigh is consistently ranked as one of the best cities for businesses and careers. Forbes recently put the city as No. 2 among the best places in the country for young professionals.

And Raleigh is not done growing. The City of Oaks has experienced the second-highest overall population increase and the third-highest job growth in the country over the past two decades, according to Forbes.


The city plans to continue expanding with projects like Union Station. The new passenger rail station aims to increase safe and efficient transportation from Raleigh to Charlotte, and is scheduled to open in 2017 in the city’s Warehouse District.

“The Union Station project stands to change the economic development potential of the Warehouse District,” Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane said. “The station will replace what is currently an underutilized collection of warehouses and vacant land with a new city landmark that will not only serve as a multi-modal transportation hub, but also a civic space with potential for special events and expanded dining and entertainment options downtown.”

What are the other aspects of downtown Raleigh that are causing the urban area to thrive? Also, how does downtown Raleigh compare to the Triangle’s other downtown areas? Let us know in the comments below.

Charlie Shelton-Ormond is a podcast producer for WUNC.
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