Waterfront Park

In Buzz, November 2021 by Melissa HowsamLeave a Comment

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Flood-prone nuisance elevated to urban Waterfront District

If you’ve lived in Raleigh for any significant length of time, then you know on a rainy day the Crabtree Creek area floods to mind images of news anchors standing in rushing waters, submerged car lots and impassable roads. It’s also likely not lost on you that, shy of a few lakes, we live in a waterless town—dry of the waterfront draws of such cities as Chicago, Austin… even Richmond—and existing as one of the few capitals not built along
water or a bay. 

Now, making water out of, well, water (or lemonade out of lemons, if you will) is the emerging Midtown Waterfront District—one of seven “Big Moves” (see sidebar) the City of Raleigh is making as part of its Walkable Midtown plan (the name a nod to the huge emphasis on walkability and connectivity). 

“The proposed Waterfront Park District is hugely ripe with potential for development.”
—Tara Robbins, MRA Executive Director

Ever since the General Assembly swiped right on Raleigh in 1788 as the home of our state government over, say, the bustling little waterfront town of Fayetteville, city planners and citizens alike have dreamed up myriad ways to flow water into DTR—nod to the once in-jest concept of a Capital Boulevard Canal. 

“People simply like to be close to water, and active urban waterfronts are beloved places in many cities across the globe,” says City of Raleigh Senior Planner Jason Hardin. And while Downtown water may still be a dried up idea… “what if we can bring an urban place to an existing waterfront?” adds Hardin—“a place that combines an active, lively urban district with an existing waterway that actually has higher flow than many rivers in the state.” Ergo, reconfiguring the northern edge of Crabtree Creek, adjacent to Creekside and Industrial drives just south of Midtown East—Wegmans, Costco, etc.—on Wake Forest Road.

Picture this. Riding your bike on rolling waterside greenways before propping up for a brew with views. Strolling with your partner or pup before popping into a hip retail spot. Perching with a book pre meeting friends for a bite on the banks. All positioned in a reimagined high-density residential area chock-full of 7- to 12-story mixed-use buildings with residential, retail and restaurants. 

“Once we started looking at the area alongside the Crabtree, we realized the potential opportunity,” adds Hardin. “For most of the city’s history, it has turned its back on the Crabtree.” Hence, now you see parking, vacant lots, warehouses. Much of the current industrial area is past its usable life cycle—not to mention that floodplain.

Some of the pieces have already begun to fall into place, including a recent city land acquisition of property along the bank of the Crabtree Creek that can form the heart of the future Midtown Waterfront Park. 

What’s next? The city is actively seeking private partners to help manifest this vision. “We had conversations with a number of property owners and builders during the planning process,” says Hardin. “There are major plans for two sites north of Six Forks Road along Industrial Drive, and similar projects closer to the waterfront seem likely as well.” 

Adds Hardin: “I think people have been captivated by this vision for a Waterfront District.” Captivated, indeed. 

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