From the mid-1970s well into the 1990s, downtown revitalization was a significant concern and topic of public discussion in Fayetteville. Newspapers, radio and TV carried sobering reports about the death of retail business downtown. Sears, J.C. Penney, Belk and numerous small shops had abandoned Hay Street. Cross Creek Mall and nearby strip malls became Fayetteville’s retail sales hub, serving south-central North Carolina.
The opening in 2000 of the world-class Airborne & Special Operations Museum changed everything. Business investors and local government took a renewed interest in the heart of the center city.
Today, less than 20 years later, businesses along Hay Street and the surrounding innercity streets yield more property tax revenue than the mall does. That was a surprising revelation by consultant Steve Auterman of Urban Design Associates of Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. “You ought to be building more of what is getting you the best return,” he said.
Auterman provided Fayetteville City Council an initial conceptual report of ways his firm believes Fayetteville’s downtown can be transformed into a vibrant business, entertainment, residential and government complex. He gave the council a detailed report Mar. 4.
Auterman foresees a physical transformation of the downtown area, which he said extends far beyond Hay Street. He noted that the recent reconstruction of W. Russell Street can be utilized better, saying that only about 10,000 cars a day travel the six-lane road.
He added that on-street parking and bike lanes could easily be carved out along Russell Street. It would be one way of addressing the need for more parking availability.
“Make the best choices — not the easy choices,” was Auterman’s theme for almost every recommendation he made. “Increased value and vibrancy are the desired outcomes,” he added.
With the new Rowan Street railroad overpasses nearing completion, the consultant said improving downtown gateways will foster in-town living and improve mobility. Auterman envisions a downtown residential neighborhood but emphasized the need for updated zoning, which now limits progressive residential growth. Modern design standards, he said, would help stimulate investments.
“It’s important that our decisions are critical and include well-planned areas,” said District 2 Councilman Dan Culliton. His district includes downtown.
Auterman said the real estate that City Hall and police headquarters occupy is valuable, but they should be relocated in the city center. Some Council members have considered the southern tip of Murchison Road as a potential location for city offices.
Urban planners believe that downtown expansion should occur east and south of the Market House. A performing arts center envisioned by county government could be built on Person Street. One location that’s been suggested is the former Greyhound Bus station property. Fayetteville Mayor Mitch Colvin said the next step for Urban Design Associates is to bring City Council specific ideas about how the city should implement downtown revitalization.