Downtown Raleigh is experiencing a a new wave of growth and revitalization, according to a panel of Raleigh-based entrepreneurs and city officials, including planning director Mitchell Silver in his last public presentation before he heads home to New York City.

At a gathering hosted by the Downtown Raleigh Alliance at Memorial Auditorium this morning, Silver, Raleigh Economic Development manager James Sauls, managing director of Ipreo O’Hara Macken and CEO of Dominion Realty Andy Andrews told an audience of 500 people how and why the state’s capital is growing exponentially, and what gaps the City needs to fill in order to keep up.

Macken explained that global data and technology companies (like Ipreo, Citrix and Red Hat) are attracted to downtown Raleigh because the talent pool— graduates from the 12 universities and colleges located in the Triangle—is already here.

A mix of modern and historic buildings and amenities like restaurants, shops, office space, night life and museums—positioned in five unique districts across downtown— make Raleigh a desirable place for young people seeking fun experiences to live after college.

“Employees want to be downtown,” Macken said. “(Ipreo) came for the talent, we were impressed by the collaborative and entrepreneurial spirit, the innovation. Things are going well here and there are growth opportunities for the area.”

Panelists discussed how to establish Raleigh’s identity as an “innovative” Tier 2 city, which as it grows, will be competing with cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Miami, New York City, Washington and Boston, in “stalking the creative class.”

“You have to live your brand,” Mitchell said. “You have to have the ability to execute on plans. We have the reputation of getting things done. We have the institutions and technology to live the brand and show the execution.”

But panelists agreed, Raleigh doesn’t have all the necessary infrastructure yet to accommodate this rate of growth, including the transit to get people into downtown and the open space crucial to quality of life in high-density areas.

A light rail system, Dix Park, a re-developed Capital Boulevard and “a huge water element” topped Silver’s list of what Raleigh needs to rally to world-class city status.

Silver also talked about the need to take a careful approach to redeveloping low-income areas in southeast Raleigh, such as New Bern Avenue, Chavis Heights and around St. Augustine’s College, so gentrification doesn’t take over.

“It needs to be a go-slow approach,” Silver said. “It needs to be strategic as not to make people feel like they’re being pushed out.”

Though he is returning to his hometown of Brooklyn to take a new job in May, Silver has said he plans to retire here in Raleigh.

“Downtown Raleigh’s best years are still ahead,” he said.

Raleigh Growth By the Numbers

30.1 = median age of an urban Raleigh resident, 7 years younger than the national average

20% = percentage of Wake County tax revenue that comes from downtown Raleigh, up from 5% seven years ago

3.2 million= number of tourists that downtown Raleigh attracted in 2013

$53,699= median household income in downtown Raleigh

70,000= number of housing units, half of which will be apartments, to be built in Raleigh by 2025

243= outdoor festivals downtown in 2013

2.1 million sq. ft. = amount of retail space planned for development downtown

$317 million= in investment retail development will bring to downtown

#1= among fastest growing cities in the U.S. according to Forbes in March, 2013