Dubbing New Districts

In Buzz, Feature Stories, October 2021 by Melissa Howsam1 Comment

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Raleigh Magazine is calling it—naming Raleigh’s three emerging districts.

As Raleigh’s development boom sprints ahead at Usain Bolt pace, three new nodes look to emerge as newly named districts with distinct vibes—two in the heart of DTR, and one just outside—thus extending Raleigh’s walkability and livability via these unique and identifiable pockets. 

So Raleigh Magazine is getting bold, going out on a limb and branding these districts ourselves: West End, Smoky Hollow and Iron District.

… Now, if you are a longtime Raleigh resident and the thought of more emerging districts—or growth in general—grates on your nerves, hear us out. It’s about community—not separation. 

Side note: As a Raleigh lifer myself, when I landed in the City of Oaks in 1988 as a child, hailing from the lesser Carolina, Downtown Raleigh was a desert that felt like another country. And anything even close to the no man’s land that is the now-burgeoning area around I-540 was disdainfully dubbed “Virginia.” (I can hear my grandma now: “You didn’t tell me I had to drive you to Virginia.” … We were going to a neighborhood just north of Stonehenge.) And, wait for it, I lived on North Hills Drive. Yet, case in point, the city had such sprawl that there didn’t exist the connectivity we have today—not to mention entertainment, culture, walkability—rendering other areas of town to feel oh-so-far-away. 

Thus, these emerging districts over time are about erasing the sprawl and bringing us together via identifiable pockets of town with their own vibes. Think Atlanta’s Ponce City Market or Little Five Points.

“Areas kind of create their own energy, their own vibes and sometimes their own clusters—and that can be really cool,” says Downtown Raleigh Alliance President and CEO Bill King. 

But naming a district isn’t like naming a baby or a building. With an area of town, you don’t just have one or two people with the authority to slap a name on it and move on. “We let the community feel their way through these things,” says King, “and try to just reflect how the districts evolve”—and emerge over time. 

Often their names are symbolic of the area’s history (Warehouse District), logistics (Glenwood South) or landmarks (Moore Square). “I think it usually takes something triggering or stimulating it,” says King. “If a district sees a change, then this makes sense. And sometimes that’s a big development; sometimes it comes up from a business name, etc.”

King recalls the Warehouse District’s rapid face-lift over the last few years as indicative of how these districts emerge. “I was standing there a few days ago at the corner of Martin and West just thinking: Gosh, this was so different 3 1/2 years ago. There’s a grocery store here, restaurants here. Before, it was just kind of empty buildings and Citrix. … Now it’s a lot of really cool stuff that has united to create its own character. And so I think that there’s that opportunity with these other places as well.”

Essentially, adds King, “what you’re seeing may very well trigger [naming] if it hasn’t already.” And beyond the simple name, branding these areas enables their inherent businesses to work together and pool their energies to be more successful—both inside of and outside of Downtown. 

“Having urban corridors [beyond Downtown] is a good thing because it provides walkable nodes,” says King. “So those people who live near there can walk and get coffee and get a beer and go to a store. And it also provides new opportunities for entrepreneurship that are different—so it expands Raleigh’s entrepreneurship. It adds a little bit of urban fabric.” 

Here, we take a look at where these three emerging districts are and how we named them.

Iron District 

Bound by: Wake Forest Road, Hodges Street, Timber Drive, & Downtown Boulevard/Capital

Well, it’s not Five Points. Period. So it’s no stretch that this burgeoning area of town where you may now hang at the likes of Loading Dock, Hummingbird, Wilson’s Eatery, Big Boss Brewing, Bowstring Pizza and Brewyard, etc., has already established itself as a pocket of town with a unique identity—and one we have to say we saw coming. … Raleigh Magazine first branded this emerging area as Iron District in February 2019—a nod to the Raleigh Iron Works development rethinking the former Peden Steel site adjacent to Dock 1053 (see p. 80 for the exclusive reveal on the Iron Works development).

“The district is unique in that it’s right at the edge of Five Points and Hayes Barton coming from the west, and the more bohemian, creative class neighborhoods, like Mordecai and Oakwood, then across Capital Boulevard, the Lion’s Park neighborhood that’s seeing lots of changes,” says Grubb Ventures Managing Director of Commercial Leasing and Acquisitions Sam Crutchfield.

And again we see a massive groundbreaking development (Raleigh Iron Works) likely to largely influence the area’s distinction. But bigger than that, this emerging node of town also has more significant ramifications in that now we are starting to see pockets of Raleigh being named as districts outside of Downtown—reminiscent of cities like Atlanta, Chicago, New York—with “urban corridors,” if you will.

As these corridors continue to develop, it’s only a matter of time before you see them as connectors to and through parts of the city. “I think [Raleigh Iron Works] is going to end up being that connector, along with Midtown, that ties North Hills and Downtown Raleigh together as a really fun, unique node of Raleigh that ties very distinct neighborhoods to the west with neighborhoods to the east,” says Crutchfield, who is spearheading the project. “They tend to cross right here at Raleigh Iron Works and East End and, to an extent, at Midtown East.”

Adds King: “Absolutely where I see Raleigh growing is, if you look at cities around the country, more urban corridors are part of how a city grows. I think it adds a little bit of urban fabric. It certainly adds walkability. Whether it’s the Iron Works area or another corridor like that—or even the districts you’ve talked about—I think those are good things because it’s just a part of how cities, as they grow, have different corridors and pockets—and that provides a more interesting fabric.”

Smoky Hollow 

Bound by: Wade Avenue, North West & Lane streets, & Capital Boulevard

Just east of—and distinct from—Glenwood South and the surrounding areas, the brand-new Smoky Hollow development by Kane Realty Corporation (see our September issue for all the details on the Smoky Hollow development) has dubbed itself the “northern gateway of downtown”—and has arguably already earned its eponymous naming rights for the distinctive urban “Smoky Hollow” district it encompasses.

Beyond the eponymous development, this area already harbors an eclectic range of locally owned restaurants, bars and retail whose personality doesn’t mesh with Glenwood South… running the gamut from Little City Brewing and Mulino to The Longleaf Hotel to The Cardinal—and now Rainbow Luncheonette and Pink Boot.

Now it’s no stretch that a development encompassing such a huge swath of Downtown real estate would become known by name—a fact Kane Realty’s team acknowledges. “Glenwood South has been such a champion for us throughout this whole process that you know we see this forming as an adjacent district over time,” says Kane Realty’s director of design, Josie Reeves. “And we’re referring to ourselves as a district.”

Beyond that, checking yet another box for district naming, Smoky Hollow’s moniker is not new—it’s a nod to the neighborhood’s original name and past, set along a still-operating railroad line, where coal-burning trains once emitted a deep black smoke that would settle in the adjacent low-lying land. “So it literally made it a smoky hollow,” says Reeves. 

Adds King: “Smoky Hollow obviously is one that Kane brought back, but was an existing area before, so it had a historic root. It also has this internal courtyard with businesses facing it, essentially like its own pedestrian mall in there, and so I think that gives it its own distinct kind of flavor so to speak—its own kind of feel and vibe inside of that area—and I think people will think of Smoky Hollow in a distinct manner.” 

West End

Bound by:Cabarrus, Dawson, South &  Boylan streets

Not unlike its Warehouse District neighbor, this area right now sits as its own sort of no man’s land at the—you guessed it—“west end” of Downtown. When queried on the logistical appropriateness of this area being dubbed West End, King agrees that “there’s a certain logic to it, in terms of being on the west side, thinking of it as the southwest end of Downtown, so to speak, from a built environment. Beyond that, you’re either in Dix Park or Boylan Heights, where obviously you’re not going to necessarily have the same type of development pattern or density to it. So the ‘End’ aspect makes sense as well for that name.”

With Kane Realty Corporation’s upcoming Platform project , this previously obscure—but quickly emerging—pocket of Downtown between two otherwise distinct districts is no doubt developing its own identity. 

Its unique position gives it “an interesting mixture of history along with new opportunity, great views… a mix of neighborhood vibes and obviously urban vibes,” says King. Adding to those vibes, you have the longtime local fave rustic-chic Boulted Bread, now gaining a plethora of locally owned partners ranging from food to wares, with the proximal company of long-awaited Sam Jones BBQ and the highly anticipated makers market and workshop space Hartwell, slated for an October open.

Ultimately, what no doubt exists here is “a lot of opportunity,” says King. “That area is changing so much… I think it certainly makes sense for it to have its own distinct name.”

To wrap up…

Not long ago, Fayetteville Street and Glenwood South, though only a mile apart, felt worlds apart… until nodes like the Warehouse District popped up to unify them, thus enabling us to be able to easily move from one district to another (even on foot or bike or scooter!) without these huge dead spaces, making Raleigh a more interconnected city—which is really the most compelling factor here. 

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  1. IMO, there are developments and then there are districts. Like The Dillon is a development within the Warehouse District, Smoky Hollow is a development within Glenwood South, and North Hills is a Development within Midtown.
    The idea of a separate West End District is more compelling to me because Union Station and its rail lines cut it off from the Warehouse District south of Hargett unless one goes through The Depot parking lot. The “West End” is also not dominated by a single development in the way a presumed Smoky Hollow district is.
    As for the “Iron District”, it sits somewhere between the other two examples. It could be described as a part of Midtown (or Midtown East), or it could emerge as its own thing. It’s substantially far enough away from both Downtown and the core of Midtown to stand alone on its own.
    I wholeheartedly agree that that the connections among downtown’s districts is the most compelling story regarding where Raleigh is today. Among those connections, the meeting point of Glenwood South, The Warehouse District, and the Capital District along the Hillsborough/Morgan corridors is arguably the most exciting to watch.

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