Raleigh City Council OKs borrowing for Moore Square renovations

ccampbell@newsobserver.comMay 8, 2014 

— City Council members voted Tuesday to borrow up to $15.3 million to renovate downtown’s Moore Square and replace an aging fire station.

The long-delayed facelift at the one-block park includes an outdoor cafe, granite plaza and tiered lawns at a cost of $12.6 million, less than earlier projections. The debt capacity is available without raising taxes, so City Manager Ruffin Hall recommended Moore Square and a new fire station on Oberlin Road as top priorities.

The downtown business community has been lobbying council members for the renovations.

“We think this is something that would benefit that whole area from an economic development perspective,” said David Diaz, president of the Downtown Raleigh Alliance.

Tuesday’s vote won’t be the final discussion on Moore Square. Several council members said they would like to see cheaper renovations, and hearings on the park’s design are still months away.

“I would like to see us consider about half of that” $12.6 million figure, Councilman Thomas Crowder said. “It’s very beyond me why we need to spend so much money to have a first-rate park experience at Moore Square.”

The cost estimate includes about $800,000 for grading and other “earthwork,” about $1 million for boulders, tables and chairs and more than $5 million for stone walls, paving and other structural features.

Nearby business owners and residents say the improvements are well worth the price for a park that has often been neglected.

“We all want a place to read a book and eat lunch on a beautiful spring day,” New Raleigh founder Jedidiah Gant said in an email to the council. “But without design energy being put towards Moore Square, it will continue to fall behind and lack the inspiration that puts Raleigh at the top of every top 10 poll in the nation.”

The owners of shops and restaurants around the square also think the upgrades would provide a boost.

“As a business owner in the Moore Square district, it would be difficult to overestimate the importance of having an attractive, safe and newly renovated Moore Square,” said Amy Griffith, owner of the Cimos boutique on Hargett Street.

Crowder, however, said he would like to cut costs by dropping plans for public bathrooms and a cafe. Those elements are already in jeopardy because state officials haven’t approved them; the state owns the property, though it is maintained by the city.

“I keep having this vision of a hamburger stand,” Crowder said. “We really need to let the restaurants around the square provide those eating facilities.”

Crowder also voiced concerns about costly tree protection techniques, though he stressed that preserving century-old trees is important. Councilman Bonner Gaylord also wants to review the budget before signing a construction contract.

“It seems like a high price to pay,” Gaylord said.

If the Moore Square budget drops, the remaining money would be used to upgrade aging park facilities throughout the city. Additional park projects could secure funding through a bond referendum this fall, but a bond package would come with higher property taxes.

Campbell: 919-829-4802; Twitter: @RaleighReporter

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