In the early ’90s, I lived in Raleigh at 610 Willard Place. Willard is a block-long side street bordered by Boylan and Glenwood avenues, respectively, to the west and east, and by Hillsborough Street to the south. My only neighbors were a small catering business next door (under whose back deck a homeless man slept), a lot of warehouses, industrial businesses and a sprinkling of law firms. In the house across the street, there was an office where people were working day and night, planning something they called “Exploris.”

My restaurant choices, within safe walking distance, were Char-Grill, Snoopy’s Hot Dogs, or Sunflowers Sandwich Shop. The neighborhood nightlife consisted of a really bad garage band that I could sometimes hear practicing in one of the warehouses and Mary Lou’s Tavern, where I wouldn’t have set foot on a dare.

So what is it like to live in this trendy neighborhood now?

Spencer and Marilyn Forbes live in one of the apartments at The Creamery. They have been there since May 2001, but are staying only until they finish renovations on their home in another Raleigh neighborhood. However, Marilyn, a youthful, energetic 40-something professional, finds that she has become somewhat ambivalent about returning to their house across town.

“To tell the truth, we’ve become very comfortable living here. We love the restaurants, the energy, the choices for things to do, without having to drive everywhere,” she says wistfully. “We can catch the Raleigh Trolley and visit the museums and galleries in the downtown area, or go eat at one of the places in the Warehouse district, and then come home and have a nightcap at Vin Wine Bar, right here in The Creamery. All without driving or finding parking or any hassles. It’s wonderful!”

Getting to work couldn’t be easier. Marilyn works for a law firm in the First Union building in nearby downtown. Her husband only needs to walk about 50 paces to his office with Martin & Jones Law Firm, on the second floor of The Creamery’s main building.

Their airy, two-story, loft-style apartment features a master bedroom, two baths, an open, galley-style kitchen and a bonus space at the stair landing that could be a small home office, a guest area or a reading nook.

“Living here gives you a real city feel,” Marilyn smiles. “There’s lots of foot traffic, especially at night. It’s not New York, but we love the energy, the nightlife, the privacy when you want it. It’s an uptown, sophisticated environment with something for everyone.”

Just a block north at 510 Glenwood, resident Dave Churchill echoes many of the same sentiments. He’s only lived there since before the holidays, but already he is delighted with the Glenwood South ambiance.

A prior owner of a successful CAD firm, he has lived in the Triangle ever since he graduated from the N.C. State School of Design in the early ’70s. Dave is on sabbatical while he makes plans for his next business venture, supporting himself for the time being by day-trading.

You can barely hear the traffic noise below his elegantly appointed condo, unless you step out onto the private balcony. On the street level of the high rise, there are restaurants and retail space. Various business offices fill the second and third floors. The fourth, fifth and sixth floors are upscale condominiums.

What made him decide to move to this location?

“Actually, after my marriage broke up, I moved to River Mills Condominiums at the Falls Lake dam. They were great, there were lots of artists and interesting people, but it was much too quiet. Plus the 20 minute drive to work was increasingly unpleasant.” His next stop was a townhouse in North Raleigh. It still didn’t suit him.

“I would leave in the morning, come home at night, but I never had a sense of where I was living. It could have been anywhere. I just never felt any kind of personal connection.”

Not so in Glenwood South. “The way they’ve preserved the historic buildings and the old-fashioned neighborhood feeling is great. And everyone here is so friendly. I’ve already gotten to know a lot of my neighbors. There are young, very successful singles, older retired and semi-retired couples and at least two players on the Carolina Hurricanes hockey team.”

Echoing Marilyn, he says, “It’s not New York, but I don’t want to live in New York–the Triangle is my home. Glenwood offers a lot of what people like about New York urban life. I love feeling like I am a part of a vital, growing place, yet a place with real charm and character. I love stepping outside my door and hearing jazz floating up from Bogart’s, the cheerful noise of people hanging out. I can walk to any number of very nice bars, or my choice of dozens of restaurants. Then, when I am ready for my privacy, I can just close my door and relax.”

Kris Hyland is another resident in Glenwood South. Having lived in the trendy Southend district of Charlotte, he thrives on urban energy and the convenient access to culture and entertainment. He is one of the managers of The Graduate, a comfortable, neighborhood bar located on the street level of 510 Glenwood. He shares an apartment at The Creamery with the other manager.

“Well, maybe it’s too convenient,” he grins when asked about having home and work less than a block apart. “Even though we had a foot of snow earlier this month, we could make it in to open for business.” But he admits that he loves not being dependent on a car, “except to get groceries,” and being able to soak up the nightlife “within stumbling distance of home.”

Recently out of the military, Kris is fun-loving and into the singles party scene. He is serious, though, when asked about why he likes living and working in the city.

“I loved living right in downtown Charlotte. The Southend is really vibrant and has so much happening. Lots of retail shops, restaurants, all kinds of entertainment. Very upscale, nice. That’s what I hope this area will become.”

But Kris notes that some recent funding setbacks in Charlotte may hurt the future of the downtown area. He shakes his head. “I hope Raleigh is going to be smarter. So far, I’ve seen a lot of support for developing and beautifying the older city neighborhoods. Even though the economy is in a slump and the Sept. 11 attacks really hurt the leisure industries, Glenwood South is still growing. It’s not New York, but I don’t want to live in New York. I think this is a lot friendlier and a lot less expensive. And it’s getting better all the time.” EndBlock

Downtown developers are hosting a public forum to get Raleigh residents’ opinions on the many changes underway in downtown Raleigh. It will be on Thursday, Jan. 31 from 5-7 p.m. at 133 Fayetteville Street Mall, Suite 100.