Advocates speak out on potential effect of ‘Downtown South’ on nearby Raleigh residents

Wake County News

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Plans for a stadium and entertainment district in southeast Raleigh could take a step forward this week.

Thursday, Raleigh’s Planning Commission will examine rezoning parcels for mixed use as part of the “Downtown South” district.

However, two groups are raising concerns about the plan’s potential impact on the surrounding neighborhood.

“You shouldn’t add anything that’s not going to enhance and enrich the lives of those that already live there,” said Sade Gilbert. “If it’s not going to enhance and enrich, then it’s going to displace them. So where are they going to go?”

Sade Gilbert lives in southeast Raleigh and is a member of Livable Raleigh, a community organizing and advocacy group.

Gilbert said she was initially excited about the proposal to build a soccer stadium with retail, restaurants and housing south of the city.

“Raleigh is growing. You have people moving here every day.  That’s an exciting place to be in Raleigh as is. You add a stadium, even more excitement,” Gilbert said.

However, Liveable Raleigh worries the plan will negatively impact historically-black communities in southeast Raleigh.   

Specifically, Gilbert is concerned about access to affordable housing.  

Gilbert said she does support the plan, so long as it’s done responsibly and with equitable access to the district.

“We just want a plan that shows you’ve taken into consideration the people who live there and you actually have a plan for how they are going to live while the stadium is being built and after. So, they can indulge and have fun,” she said.

Another group, ONE Wake, also has concerns about Downtown South’s impact on the environment and the surrounding communities.

“Black and brown people have been displaced and not reaped the benefits of the geography they once occupied. We don’t want that history to repeat itself,” said Rev. Jemonde Taylor of St. Ambrose Episcopal Church.

Taylor said his church, and the historic Rochester Heights district, are prone to flooding.

An issue he fears will worse if steps aren’t taken.

He says his church is about three-quarters of a mile downstream along Walnut Creek from the Downtown South proposed site.

The creek runs right through the planned district.

“If the development goes through with unmitigated flood water,  I am convinced that Saint Ambrose will flood because our church is in a floodplain,” he said.

Despite his concerns, Taylor said he believes the project could have “tremendous benefits” for the community.

Kane Realty did not respond to CBS 17’s request for an interview.

On Oct. 5 during a virtual town hall for property-owners within 1,000 feet of the project site, an associate director at Kane, Josie Reeves, addressed the flooding concerns.

“We are humbly accepting the challenge and we are seeking help and have already employed the help of environmental agencies,” said Reeves.

On the Downtown South website, Kane says “affordable and workforce housing are an integral part of the Downtown South plan. While the development project does not displace any residents today, delivering housing options in the project area is key to a live-work-play environment. The developers are already in discussions with various housing developers to consider different options and price points.”

Thursday, the Planning Commission’s will examine rezoning requests to determine if they are in the public interest. 

The commission will make a recommendation to the City Council, who will then hold a public hearing.

Plans for the $2 billion sports and entertainment district were unveiled in June 2019.

The project would sit at the intersection of South Saunders Street and Interstate-40, and include a 20,000-seat open-air stadium with street-level retail, office space, and housing.

Developers said the project could bring $3.8 billion in economic activity over the next 15 years, and 5,900 jobs.

The district would be privately funded but needs $13 million per year from Wake County’s hotel/motel taxes.

If approved construction would begin in phases with the first to begin in late 2021.

The goal is to have phase one complete by the end of 2023.

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