When you think of highest and best use for real estate, public parks are often overlooked. Even if a park is functioning as intended, it still might have potential to serve the community in a greater capacity while adding benefit to the surrounding area. If the purpose of a park is to offer a recreational area for the community around it, then the community must be engaged in its design. The City of Raleigh’s Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources Department is doing just that with Moore Square.
Moore Square was founded in the same year as Raleigh in 1792 when Senator and surveyor William Christmas laid out 400 acres of city fabric. Moore Square is one of 3 remaining planned parcels that has survived the test of time, making it a historical and integral part of Raleigh. However, the park is showing its age having been the same since around 1964. Materials and furnishing are worn and many expressed concerns with safety, partially due to poor visibility and lack of lighting.
Even though Moore Square might seem outdated, the area around it is not. Sitting just 3 blocks south east of The Capitol, the park borders multiple offices, stores, restaurants, The Marbles Kids Museum, City Market, SkyHouse Raleigh, GoRaleigh Transit Station, Moore Square Magnet Middle School, Vintage Church, Marbles IMAX Theater, and Oak City Outreach Center.
While the park is still functioning, there is much more potential for the site. If the purpose of a park is to provide a public, recreational area for the community, then the best way to define this is to engage the community that will be using it. This started back in 2011 with focus groups, stakeholder meetings, and public engagement. Every part of its design was centered around feedback received from everyone involved ranging from the mayor and city councilmen, to the transit authority, to local businesses and organizations, to interested citizens attending one of the public engagement meetings. Focus groups of 10-20 people, along with Sasaki came up with a plan that incorporated what the community wanted the park to be.
Out of this came a couple of main priorities around the theme of creating an urban destination. In such a densely-populated area, there needs to be better connectivity to the square’s edges. The look needs to be traditional, while using building materials that are built to last and minimize maintenance. There are many beautiful trees around the perimeter, which everyone agrees should be kept intact. The urban site should serve multiple uses, while feeling safe and welcoming.
What followed is a simple but elegant redevelopment able to achieve all of these goals. The perimeter trees will be kept in place with intricate walkways going in between them that will interconnect moving through the park, all well-lit. A large grand entrance (15,600 SF) will be welcoming and pays heritage to the park. In one corner will be a stage (2,400 SF) with street-level access to a backstage area that can be used for concerts, art shows, and movies. The stage is on the smaller side in order to minimize the amount of space it will take when it’s not in use, while also encouraging smaller and more intimate events. In front of this is a large green area (40,000 SF) for general use as well as seating for events. Towards the back of the green area will be open “grove rooms” (1,000 SF each) that will provide meeting and seating space for small groups up to about 20 people. On one side of the stage will be a play area (5,500 SF) for kids while the other side will host a building for restrooms and a small eatery (1,000 SF). On one side, sidewalks will be very wide supporting pop-up shops and food truck parking.
This redevelopment will be transformative to the immediate area while offering so much more usability than before. It will create a welcoming space with a plethora of different uses. While this 4-acre park is currently functional, it will serve the community around it in a much greater capacity making it far more valuable than it currently is. Too often parks are built and forgotten about, but rarely are they renovated or redeveloped in order to provide maximum utility to the community. By realizing the greater potential and engaging the community in redevelopment efforts, The Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Resources Department is able to get even more utility that will carry this park far into the future, continuing Senator Christmas’s vision from over 2 centuries ago.
Robert Smith is a MBA Candidate at the UNC-Chapel Hill Kenan Flagler School of Business. He is also a Community Revitalization Fellow with the Development Finance Initiative.