‘A bad feeling’: What the city is doing about downtown Raleigh concerns.

Crime. Parking. Fewer customers and people downtown.

The owners of one popular Raleigh restaurant gave The News & Observer several reasons Monday why they plan to leave downtown after 88 years, though they have not set a date.

“There’s a bad feeling about being downtown,” said Debbie Holt, who owns Clyde Cooper’s Barbecue with her daughter Ashley. “People used to mosey about and stroll down the street. You don’t see that going on today.”

Holt’s comments echoed business owners who have raised similar concerns this year about safety problems, and city officials are studying how to improve downtown foot traffic since the pandemic.

What other business owners have said

Downtown business owners described their employees being hit, spit on and groped.

“My staff has been threatened with bricks, and they have had their lives threatened on a regular basis,” Kim Hammer, owner of Bittersweet and Johnson Street Yacht Club, told city leaders in September. “This is a daily thing. It’s incredible stressful. We can’t take it any more.”

Matt Coleman, owner of The Davie, described seeing a “known criminal” brandishing a knife in the air and screaming at pedestrians near his patio.

“It’s hard to believe now that business owners are having to clean up human feces outside of our shops, needles from our patios and deal with folks exposing themselves inside their bars mid-afternoons,” he said.

What has the city done?

Raleigh is pursuing a short-term contract with Capitol Special Police to patrol the GoRaleigh bus station in downtown. Those officers will carry guns, wear body-worn cameras and were set to be on the street in early November.

The private security would be a force multiplier, and company police and security officers are already being used by private businesses and in other parts of the city, Raleigh Police Chief Estella Patterson said in a previous interview. (The N&O asked to speak with Patterson for this story but has not yet heard back.)

However, those patrols have yet to begin, according to a city spokesperson.

The Raleigh City Council’s Safe, Vibrant and Health Community Committee held two meetings, including one focused on hearing from downtown business owners, employees and residents. The committee will meet again to discuss a long-term downtown policing plan, among other things.

Most of the concerns stemmed from issues near the GoRaleigh bus station and Moore Square, with the Police Department ramping up enforcement with a “zero tolerance approach.”

The News & Observer requested the latest crime data for downtown on Tuesday but has not yet received the information.

What about the Downtown Raleigh Alliance?

The Downtown Raleigh Alliance (DRA), which advocates for downtown and administers funds from the Downtown Raleigh Municipal Service District, is also hiring private security.

Those private security officers are unarmed and are focused around the bus station and Moore Square. They will be wearing body cameras and file daily reports, and serious incidents will prompt an alert to the DRA team.

A new camera system is also being installed downtown, funded by the Raleigh Police Foundation. The system is a Fusus Real Time Center platform that lets businesses and residents connect their security cameras into this center to be reviewed when there is a crime.

New ambassadors

The DRA also revamped its ambassador program with a new vendor, starting Sept. 1. New vehicles have been purchased for faster deployment, hours were changed to focus on “hot spot” areas and new uniforms were purchased.

Revamping downtown Raleigh

Downtown Raleigh, like many cities’ downtowns, has struggled to regain foot traffic since the shift to more remote work during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The city of Raleigh and Downtown Raleigh Alliance are creating a retail strategy for Fayetteville Street, and working to revamp the downtown office market, support minority- and women-owned businesses and identify “catalytic projects” that will grow the downtown economy.

A virtual meeting to share thoughts about the economic development strategy is planned for 6 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 15, and there is a survey for people who can’t attend the pop-up events.

Registration and the survey link can be found at downtownraleigh.org/do-business/economic-development-strategy

A draft plan is expected in spring 2024 with a final plan in June 2024.

Reporter Drew Jackson contributed to this article.