Peace Street – From Mills and Modesty to a Rebirth in Raleigh

In 1986, pro skateboarder and Raleigh native Reggie Barnes got together with some partners and decided to start a skateboard shop on downtown Raleigh’s Peace Street.

They called it Endless Grind, and for the last 35 years it’s sold skateboard gear, accessories and clothing and held skating events.

Back then, Peace Street was an uneventful route with a smattering of square retailers and restaurants and occasional residential development. But today, all that’s changing.

“We’ve seen lots of changes over the years,” Barnes said. “Little bits at the time, and a lot more recently.”

Today, Peace Street is exploding with new activity with a whole lot more in the pipeline set for the years to come. Endless Grind now sits right across from the towering Smoky Hollow development, as crews wrap up work on Phase Two and planning begins for Phase Three.

Also on the way is an upcoming mixed-use tower, currently zoned for up to 40 stories tall as well as the Seaboard Station mixed-use project currently underway by William Peace University. It’s a dramatic change for a quiet part of Raleigh that was a home for mill workers a century ago and later included such places as Finch’s Restaurant, Watkin’s Shoe Shop as well as a car wash and a laundry service.

And Barnes said it’s just a matter of time before the growth makes its way across to the property his store is currently leasing.

“At some point, we’re not exactly sure when, we’ll probably have to find a new location,” Barnes said. “Even where we sit will have to be developed.”

An analysis by the Downtown Raleigh Alliance found that since 2015 the corridor has added more than 1.3 million square feet of new space, including retail and commercial space and over 1,000 residential units.

Meanwhile, construction is currently underway on nearly 300,000 square feet of space, including 322 residential units, with more projects currently in the planning stages.

At least three major mixed-use destinations developments are known to be in the works at various stages as boutique developers gobble up smaller lots and property owners weigh their options on the booming route.

The street, currently a largely car-centric transit route, is quickly moving toward a more walkable, mixed-use corridor in an incoming transition that many downtown Raleigh streets have seen over the years.

Williams Realty & Building Company principal Owen Williamslikened it to the transformation One Glenwood brought to its part of the city.

“The way that Glenwood South has transformed, I think it’ll be the same for Peace Street,” he said.

Meanwhile, business owners like Barnes are increasingly weighing their options for what all this change means for them and whether there will be a space for them on Peace Street in the years to come.

“We do know that at some point we will have to move,” he said. “We have a great relationship with the owner, and in the meantime we want to be a great tenant for him so he doesn’t feel the need to rush that.”

A number of projects have been developed and are being planned that are designed to revitalize a once sleepy Raleigh corridor.

Decades of Peace 

For many years, Peace Street featured a fairly quiet stretch of roadway with a scattering of squat retail stores and eateries.

Then in 1994, Raleigh developer Roland Gammon brought the first major condo project to the area with his redevelopment of the Cotton Mill.

Situated at 614 Capital Blvd., the property dated back to the late 19th century and saw the conversion of the existing building to 50 condos. At the time it seemed to many like a big risk on an unproven product. In the end, the project proved there was a strong market as buyers raced to reserve units.

That project was followed by a few more residential projects along the Peace Street corridor over the years as growth steadily continued.

In 2000, longtime Triangle investor and Raleigh Development Co. principal Bobby Lewis bought the first of what would eventually be an assemblage of commercial properties along that area.

Over the years RDC would compile the properties at 708, 714, 716, 722, 726 and 804 N. West St. and 424 West Peace St., the site of Endless Grind.

County records list Lewis as the buyer of the first three parcels and RDC as the buyer of the other six, and in the years since. The company has yet to announce development plans for the site as it tends to other projects across the region.

Even amid these investments, growth was slow to take off on Peace Street.

At the time, Lewis had an office in the area.

“During that time it was quiet, there wasn’t much going on,” he said. “I watched the Cotton Mill get developed. Then little things started happening.”

Some new businesses came to town and some more homes were built, but few large-scale projects were planned for that stretch of the street.

Williams and Kane kick off a boom

That all began to change in 2016 when longtime Raleigh developers Kane Realty Corp. and Williams Realty & Building Company announced their plans for Smoky Hollow, a massive multiphase mixed-use development that would totally transform that part of town.

Williams had been amassing land at the corner of Peace and N. West streets for years and soon went before City Council with plans for the development.

Today, the first phase is done and nearly all the work on Phase Two has wrapped up. These include the Peace Street Apartments and the new Publix grocery store in Phase One, and the Line Apartments and the nearly completed 421 Harrington mixed-use office tower in Phase Two.

Kane and Williams now plan to turn their gaze to designing Phase Three.

The third, but not final, phase of the project is currently expected to have a wide range of uses, including retail, office, hotel and multifamily and at least one large tower.

The city agreed to rezone the site of Phase Three to allow for development up to 40 stories tall after a contentious approval process in which the developers ultimately offered to include affordable housing in the plans.

Today, design meetings for Phase Three are just kicking off, and the developers hope to pick a design firm by this summer.

Zimmer and Hoffman hop on

While Kane and Williams were still in the planning stages for Smoky Hollow, other developers were looking to get in on the action.

First, in 2018, William Peace University announced plans to sell a portion of Seaboard Station, which it had bought five years before for $20.75 million. The announcement kicked off a months-long search to find a buyer, which ultimately ended with a $34 million sale to D.C. developer Hoffman and Associates.

The purchase was the company’s first in Raleigh, and Hoffman soon after announced its plans for a $300 million mixed-use development called Seaboard Station.

Across all phases, the project is expected to feature over 600 apartments, 130,000 square feet of retail space, a hotel, outdoor dining and entertainment space and underground parking.

After more than two years of zoning and site approvals from the city, construction on Phase One of the project began earlier this year, calling for 300 apartments and 30,000 square feet of retail across seven stories of development.

And as work continues, Hoffman Executive Vice President John Florian said he anticipates a greater link between their destination and the Glenwood South corridor as a mix of government-led improvements to the corridor and private development improve pedestrian access throughout that part of town.

“As (Peace Street) becomes more pedestrian friendly we really are liking it and would like to see an enhancement of the connection from Glenwood South to Williams Peace University and even Person Street,” he said. “We think that connection is going to be a focus.”

Hoffman plans to deliver the first phase next year and has already filed site plans for Block C, calling for 220 multifamily units plus retail space in a building seven stories tall.

Meanwhile, Wilmington firm Zimmer Development filed plans in 2019, requesting the city rezone a pair of parcels at 506 Capital Blvd. to allow for a massive mixed-use tower up to 40 stories tall.

Zimmer has yet to file site plans with the city.

These two, in combination with Smoky Hollow, represent a massive influx of commercial and residential space on Peace Street.

Infrastructure in mind 

As all this new space comes online, traffic continues to rise while pedestrian use is expected to explode in the coming years.

For the last decade, traffic has steadily increased by 1 percent per year, according to Raleigh department of transportation engineering review supervisor Bradley Kimbrell. These numbers do lag 2003 traffic counts, Kimbrell said, though he’s unclear why traffic dropped after that.

The street has also seen a number of roadway improvements in the form of both public projects and as a part of private development.

And another major planned addition to the street calls for a large new park at the corner of Peace Street and Capital Boulevard.

For years, the city has been working toward the development of the Devereux Meadow Park, slated for the 14 acres right across the street from Smoky Hollow on property that was once the site of the Devereux Meadow baseball park.

The land is currently being used as a maintenance and vehicle service facility for the city.

The city held a neighborhood meeting on May 6 to receive input from the public as it moves ahead with the planning and design process for the project.

Meanwhile, developers along the street say the project has the potential to further transform that part of town in tandem with the ongoing projects.

“With the Peace Street improvements, the investments we’ve made here in Smoky Hollow and the Devereux Meadows Park, it just enhances the entire area,” Williams said.

Not all these improvements have gotten off the ground.

The city’s previous plans to widen the sidewalks along the street were nixed due to expected project shortfalls for the 2017 Transportation Bond.

Williams said that project would’ve done a lot to improve the area for pedestrians.

“It’s not the safest place to be walking right now. Cars are darting in all over the place, and anything they can do to make pedestrian traffic a little safer,” he said. “Wide sidewalks make a huge difference.”

Still, with each new development comes new infrastructure improvements and walkability upgrades.

At Smoky Hollow, the project features large walkable areas between buildings with retail space lining the ground floors of the buildings.

And at Seaboard Station, the development is designed to foster a walkable environment that connects to the various areas and neighborhoods around it.

Where we go from here 

Today, Peace Street  still has a long way to go with much of the space slated for the street still in the planning or design phases.

Kane and Williams have yet to file plans for Phase Three of Smoky Hollow, with little to no information locked down about any phases after that.

Wilmington-based Zimmer Development, too, has yet to file site plans for its towers and officials at the company did not return calls for comment.

Meanwhile, many property owners with land along the route have yet to decide what they want to do, whether to develop or to pursue a sale to an interested party.

At Raleigh Development Co., Lewis said they don’t have plans yet, though they would like to begin talks in a year or so.

Until then, he said they’ll be keeping an eye on how things go, particularly with Devereux Meadow Park.

“I’m anxiously watching for what the city is doing with that park, and that’ll weigh in some day,” he said. “If the city does a park there that’ll make a load of difference.

Meanwhile, businesses are having to consider if the future of Peace Street will still have a place for them in it.

For Barnes and Endless Grind, he said the time may soon come for them to move off Peace Street, and he’s keeping an eye out for the next great space, just in case.

“We’re looking now. We have plenty of properties in front of us,” Barnes said. “You know, we look at all that change and it’s inevitable for a nice upcoming city like Raleigh with a population growing like it is. You can’t expect it to stay the way it has.”