Orage Quarles III is back downtown—and on the move.

The president and publisher of The News & Observer from 2000 until 2016, Quarles recently accepted the post of interim director of the nonprofit Downtown Raleigh Alliance. Wednesday was Quarles’s first day in his downtown office on Wilmington Street. In September, he and the DRA’s eleven employees will be moving to the Capital Bank Building on Fayetteville Street.

“It’s exciting that I get to do something different for the first time in my life,” Quarles, a veteran of the publishing industry, told the INDY as downtown’s steady vehicle and foot traffic passed his office window. “I wasn’t looking for a job; in fact, I was knee deep working on Dix Park.”

Quarles heads the nominating committee for the Dix Park Conservancy’s board of directors. The group is hammering out a plan for the three-hundred-acre-plus tract near downtown.

With the hiring of CEO Sean Malone and the signing of architect Michael Van Valkenburgh for the Dix project, Quarles said, he had time to entertain the DRA’s offer when it came. He’s still adjusting to the broad range of DRA initiatives, with the aid of outgoing director David Diaz, who accepted the presidency of the Tysons Corner collaborative in Fairfax County, Virginia.

Organized in 1996, the DRA has been key to the resurgence of downtown Raleigh through branding, special events, attracting retail and merchants, creating partnerships, and placing safety and hospitality ambassadors on downtown streets. For the general public, DRA has lifted its public profile by organizing First Friday and downtown restaurant week, farmers market, and outside movie events.

Quarles is being paid monthly at the same of level as Diaz, whose base salary was $176,594 in 2015, the last year for which IRS data is available.

The hiring of a permanent director for DRA will follow the drafting of a strategic plan for the group, a process that will take five or six months. The organization will base its choice of a new permanent director on the goals contained in the plan, Quarles said. He is not seeking the permanent post.

In addition to promoting additional downtown retail and professional offices, the alliance will also work on the issue of affordable housing, a key focus of city leaders as rents continue to rise in the urban core. “It was presented at our annual meeting, so I don’t see how you avoid it,” Quarles said.

The challenge for downtown remains keeping up a balancing act among the sometimes competing desires of business people, residents, and visitors. Conflicts between those interests consumed city council members for more than a year, with images of Raleigh streets populated by inebriated partiers even figuring in 2015 city elections.

“We don’t want to be known as DrunkTown any more,” Quarles said.

See more of the INDY interview with Orage Quarles III in the March 8 edition of the paper.

Editor’s note: Quarles was publisher of
The News & Observer during staff writer Thomas Goldsmith’s tenure at the newspaper from 2003–16.