As plans to build two new high-rises in central Raleigh move forward, a small group of neighbors is celebrating their successful attempt to save a piece of history.

The campaign to save Seaboard Station began months ago, after Turnbridge Equities, a New York-based developer, filed plans with the City of Raleigh to demolish the 80-year-old Seaboard Train Station, located near the intersection of West Peace Street and Capital Boulevard. The developer planned to build two towers on the site, currently home to Logan’s Garden Shop.

In a familiar tale, nearby residents quickly protested, with more than 100 people showing up at a local neighborhood meeting to object to the station’s destruction. Instead of overruling residents’ objections, as has been a characteristic of the majority of Raleigh’s city council members in the last three years when it comes to development decisions, council members were persuaded to hear the residents out after a small group launched a weeks-long campaign to save the station by starting a petition, writing letters, and creating social media accounts.

Ultimately, they convinced four city council members to hold off on approving the rezoning, forcing the developer to change their plans. In exchange for permission to build up to 20 stories, Turnbridge Equities agreed to preserve or relocate at least 50 percent of Seaboard Station. Now, after the rezoning was approved in September, construction is expected to begin in 2025.

The story is an exciting and inspiring example of how neighbors can successfully advocate for their community. But it’s also not the whole story. Even though these Raleigh residents saved the station, their victory is among a slew of what they see as failures. Most of the time, run-of-the-mill residents don’t have the time or energy to fight the change that is constantly at work in Raleigh.

“I’ve been involved in preservation projects for decades, and so were the other people who helped,” says Matthew Brown, one of the lead organizers of the campaign to save Seaboard Station and resident of Raleigh’s historic Oakwood neighborhood since 1986. “They were Raleigh’s leading preservationists … people who don’t want Raleigh to be a generic collection of high-rises and McMansions.”

Per their agreement with the city council, Turnbridge Equities is set to move half of Seaboard Station to a new location off Peace Street. The relocation process will be complex, but Turnbridge is “working with experts who specialize in historic building structures and moving buildings in the Triangle area,” says Jason Davis, managing director of the company.

The fact that Seaboard Station was built on an elevated slab makes relocation a little easier, says Davis. The plan is to put structures under the slab, lift the entire building, and move it 100 yards north, according to a report from the Triangle Business Journal.

The original ticketing and waiting areas of the station will be preserved, while public plazas will be added on the north and south ends of the station, meant for public events and future retail, Davis says.

“Specific uses for the station building will be determined closer to construction start,” he adds.

Brown says he’s satisfied with the outcome of this rezoning case, but it’s hard to see other quasi-historic buildings in Raleigh continue to be torn down. While he and others were fighting hard to save Seaboard Station, the city council continued to hear and approve rezonings with little resistance from residents.

Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing depends on whom you ask. Brown says he’s happy with the city’s drive to approve infill development, such as redeveloping surface parking lots and other mostly empty areas of land. He also doesn’t mind developers tearing down rundown houses or commercial buildings that have become eyesores.

But Brown says he does object to developers tearing down Raleigh’s “beautiful historic monuments,” even those, such as Seaboard Station, that are not officially protected by historical status.

“I want to live in an interesting place, and I want to live in a beautiful place,” he says. “The old buildings … all have a story. I mean, [Seaboard] Station, there were a dozen trains a day that stopped there. This is where soldiers were sent off to World War II and came back from World War II and met their families. And if you take it away, then people can’t show their children. Every old building has some kind of story like that.”

Brown argues that the recent election results, which saw four newcomers elected to the city council, shows people want a city council that will stand up to developers and leverage rezonings to get something in return.

“This last election certainly sent a message that four new people were elected who are not supported by the developers,” Brown says. “[They’re] a little more responsive to just the citizens rather than the big money.”

In the meantime, Turnbridge is moving ahead on their plan to build two towers on the lot formerly known as Seaboard Station. The development will be mixed-use, which means it will include a mix of retail and residential space. According to site plans, the project will include 680 apartments, a mix of studios and one-, two- and three-bedroom units. It will also include three 922-square-foot townhomes with street access.

The ground floors of the 16- and 20-story towers will mostly be home to retail space (11,826 square feet) as well as amenities such as a gym, swimming pool, bike storage, clubhouse, and green spaces (26,641 square feet). There are also plans for a 270,700-square-foot parking garage lined with residences.

The project is expected to cost about $200 million and be built in two phases. The first phase, starting in 2025, will take about two years to finish, and deliver 300 apartments along with half the parking garage. The second phase is expected to take an additional two years to complete.

As the project moves forward, Davis says Turnbridge is “committed and excited to the continued pursuit of relocating the beloved train station building, which was not previously a requirement for the parcel due to its lack of landmark designation.”

The developer has a record of “contextually-sensitive” development, Davis says, citing the company’s preservation of the historic Creamery building on Glenwood Avenue and the Mutual Tower in Durham. Turnbridge also plans to preserve the original warehouse buildings in its West Martin Street development, Davis says. The company purchased a parcel spanning 307-313 West Martin Street in the Warehouse District earlier this year.

“As we’ve seen firsthand with our projects in the Triangle, it’s clear that the people who live here care deeply about preserving the parts of this area that define its character and are simultaneously committed to collaborating to steer growth in meaningful ways,” Davis says.

“It’s rewarding to be able to develop projects that provide many benefits to residents and businesses while honoring significant buildings in the community. Ultimately, the historic preservation aspects of these properties add to the character of the new construction surrounding them.” 

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