Raleigh’s Power Players Unite to Bring Fayetteville Street Back

Raleigh’s most significant players have united to reenergize Fayetteville Street.

“Let’s invest and make this the coolest street—certainly in North Carolina, but in the Southeast and beyond,” says Fayetteville Street stakeholder Thomas “Skip” Hill. “Let’s really make it pop. So when people think of Raleigh, it’s different from what Fayetteville Street is now.”

Now a relative entertainment and retail desert, the once dynamic corridor is the focus of some key power players who have their sights set squarely on its resurgence. As a major investor owning 1.4 million square feet of office space Downtown (including four towers on Fayetteville Street: Charter Square, One City Plaza (including the four plaza “jewel boxes”), PNC Plaza and, as of July 2021, the Wells Fargo Building), Highwoods Properties, of course, is one of them. 

Talking to Highwoods senior VP Hill about Raleigh’s “Main Street” feels a lot like being Charlie Bucket with a golden ticket, where Hill’s vision of Fayetteville Street is Wonka land—and in the best possible way. His ideas for how to activate that significant strip of DTR and make it “really cool” are creative, smart and limitless, from lighting it up (literally—picture trees aglow from the Duke Energy Center of Performing Arts to the Capitol Building) to retail reinvigoration to partnering with big hospitality players. 

And he’s not alone. Hill is part of the Downtown Raleigh Alliance Economic Development Strategy Committee tasked with reenergizing Fayetteville Street, alongside DRA’s Bill King and a dozen-plus other public and private players, including entrepreneur David Meeker, Shaw University President Dr. Paulette Dillard and Duke Energy Community Relations Manager Marty Clayton, to name a few.

While Fayetteville Street’s heyday as a bustling, vibrant destination is not a distant memory, now, minus a handful of heavyweight hot spots that anchor the street—think Big Easy, Sono, Foundation, etc.—the action Downtown is elsewhere.  (Images of cars lining Glenwood South like it’s the Myrtle Beach strip no doubt spring to mind.) So what gives on Raleigh’s arguably most significant street?

If you ask Meeker, this isn’t just a pandemic problem. It’s really what you call the perfect storm. Throwing back, he nods to “DrunkTown,” where many Fayetteville Street residents discouraged nightlife post-11pm, thus pushing the late-night action toward Glenwood South. From there, he adds, you have the pandemic, where Fayetteville Street was hit uniquely because of all the office workers, and, finally, the social unrest—and lingering fear. 

“That has a lasting impact,” says Meeker. “But I think long-term, Fayetteville Street will come back. We have three or four landlords there with most of the space: Highwoods Properties, Empire Properties and Dominion Realty Partners among them.” And he credits the developers for avoiding short-term leases during the pandemic that wouldn’t be good for the long-term.

“We want to play a role in coordination with the city,” says Hill of Highwoods’ vision. He emphasizes energizing the north end of the street—“it’s most important to us that this part of Fayetteville Street gets activated—that it’s the cool place to be”—and bringing more dining options to fill some of the now-vacant spaces Highwoods owns, like B.Good, Living Kitchen and Cafe Carolina. 

One potential hospitality titan flirting seriously with a Fayetteville Street presence is LM Restaurants (of Vidrio and a’Verde fame, among many more). “We’re really excited about Downtown. It’s got enormous potential,” says LM President Amber Moshakos. “We’re looking to invest in that area because we believe in it. And we’re looking at the right opportunity to put the right brand that’s going to drive that vibrancy and activation on Fayetteville Street.”

It’s a vision Hill shares and is doubling down on as Highwoods moves its own offices to Fayetteville Street come October into the two floors recently vacated by Pendo. “So we’re going to have a live-in presence Downtown,” says Hill. “While it’s pretty challenging right now, it’s becoming better—and we would not have bought a 560,000-square-foot building [Wells Fargo] if we didn’t think we were going to overcome this. … And we’ve got several customers that are highly bullish on Fayetteville Street.” 

One of the great strengths of Fayetteville Street, adds King “is it’s a really good blend of modern and historic”—from the Briggs Hardware Building circa 1870s to PNC Plaza (the tallest building in the region) to newer buildings on the street like the FNB Tower. “And your Main Street is a symbolic part of your city,” he says.

“Not only is Fayetteville Street like the ‘Main Street’ of Raleigh,” adds Moshakos, “but it is really the ‘Main Street’ of North Carolina. And one of the things that makes an area really lively is a diverse group of hospitality businesses—a really beautiful collection of restaurants and bars and some retail. So we’re most definitely looking to see where we fit and what role we can play in that area.”

To be clear, no one is looking to revitalize DrunkTown. Fayetteville Street stakeholders have no interest in being Glenwood South. “Glenwood South has its own unique
aura,” says Hill. 

What they do want is to reenergize and activate the corridor in its own unique way. So, the slow recovery is actually a positive—because those invested in the area are playing the long game. 

Plans In Motion

Storefronts: Downtown Raleigh Alliance has a full-time storefront recruiter who’s helping work with landlords to fill vacancies on Fayetteville Street. “We’ve been able to fill [the vacancies] on Hargett Street, so we have a good model,” explains DRA’s Bill King, who says they’re seeing more responsiveness from Fayetteville Street owners who are being creative with some of the types of tenants.

Social District Pilot: As you likely know, the state legalized open container districts last year, aka specified areas where “people just walk around with a glass of wine or a beer, going into a store, sitting on a bench, etc.,” says Council Member Jonathan Melton. Adds King, the Economic Development Strategy Committee asked DRA to do community engagement and direct a pilot project for the Fayetteville Street (FS) area, which spans a few blocks in each direction from FS. If approved by the committee, it would then go to City Council this summer, which would be a game-changer for the area and make FS more attractive to bars and restaurants—and consumers. 

Alexander Square Deck (120 S. Wilmington St.) Upgrade: Highwoods plans to give the popular FS District deck a face-lift, complete with upgraded facade, new awnings, garage doors and more to make it more attractive to FS-goers. “It’s most important to us that this part of Fayetteville Street gets activated and it’s the cool place to be,” says Highwoods’ Skip Hill.

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About the Author

Angela Brown
Angela Brown is the author of our Business & Economy section.