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Published: The News & Observer, October 27, 2004

Author:
Dudley Price and Jack Hagel;
Staff Writers

Edition: Final
Section: News

Studio may advance Raleigh revival

RALEIGH -- N.C. State University's College of Design is planning an urban design studio in downtown that supporters say could give redevelopment an unprecedented boost.

Scheduled to open in February in a two-story building at 133 S. Wilmington St., the Downtown Design Studio will be home each semester to two dozen undergraduate and graduate students and professors. The students will study innovative ways to renovate buildings, sign systems, pedestrian seating, urban art and infill housing.

Margaret Mullen, president of the Downtown Raleigh Alliance, a booster organization, said design schools have established similar classrooms nationally with significant results.

"They typically are the leaders on the front end of urban renewal in every major city in the country," Mullen said. "Not only do we need their intellectual capacity ... but we need the message that it sends to the rest of the country about what is happening here."
In other cities, a university presence downtown has sparked residential, retail and office development.

In Providence, R.I., Johnson & Wales University and the Rhode Island School of Design helped revitalize the city's main business district with classrooms, dormitories, studio space and offices.

And in Savannah, Ga., the Savannah College of Art and Design opened a downtown office and ended up buying and restoring buildings "no one else would touch," Mullen said. The school also has grown from about a dozen buildings to more than 60 to house a student body of 7,000.

"There was a period when everybody would leave to go home from work by 6 p.m.," said Beth Reiter, a preservation officer in Savannah. "And now you have this bustle of students."

Tom Barrie, director of NCSU's school of architecture, said the university could help Raleigh's downtown in a similar way.
"You get more of what we call a 24-hour city, the more you get activities downtown," Barrie said. "We aren't 9-to-5. At the school of architecture, the lights are on all the time."

Students ideas
Downtown supporters say the design studio will feed into the city's other revitalization efforts. Progress Energy's $100 million mixed-use project is being finished, and work to open Fayetteville Street to vehicles and build a new civic center and hotel are scheduled. More redevelopment is on the horizon, with condo projects, hotels and retail areas being discussed.

Now, city officials must pay professionals to devise concepts for urban renewal projects. With the design studio, officials could benefit from the impartial ideas and suggestions of dozens of architecture, landscape architecture, graphic and industrial design students.
"They come to learn," Mullen said. "They don't have a political agenda; they aren't trying to foist their ideas on you. They're just trying to come up with solutions and figure out new ways to do things.

"One thing I'd like them to look at is an inexpensive way to clean up storefronts on Salisbury and Wilmington streets. I can't pay a professional to do that, but students will do that."

In Phoenix, where Mullen worked previously, Arizona State University opened a downtown classroom that studied streetscapes, facades and developed a program to paint murals on blank building walls.

"For me, it's a huge deal," Mullen said.

Community focus
College of Design Dean Marvin Malecha, who helped get $25,000 in annual funding from NCSU for the urban classroom, said opening the downtown site is in keeping with the university's historical land grant mission to better the surrounding community.

Students "have a responsibility to get in the streets and work in the problems of the people," Malecha said. The College of Design does sporadic urban studies for Raleigh and other municipalities, but taking the classroom downtown will bring a full-time focus, he said.

Malecha credited new NCSU Chancellor James Oblinger and developer Greg Hatem, who owns the 3,000-square-foot space the university will lease for the studio a block east of the Wachovia tower.

Malecha had wanted to open a downtown studio for two years and approached Hatem, one of downtown's largest private landlords and supporters. Hatem agreed to subsidize rent to match the university's $25,000, and a deal was struck.

David Stein, an extension planning specialist at the College of Design, will be the studio's director. The students' first projects will be to document existing downtown buildings through photography and suggest ways to create a downtown identity.

 
 
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