“I am glad to see,” said the chairman of the street committee to a reporter yesterday, “that some people appreciate the improvements made on Moore square. It is the intention of the committee to have the walks graded and put in first-class order. The question of a pavilion in the centre of the square has also been talked of, and will no doubt be an improvement of the near future. Moore and Nash squares will in a few years be places of resort for our people, where they can repair for a breath of pure air, and will be highly appreciated by them.” “The Public Squares to Be Improved,” The News & Observer, April 8, 1887
New Raleigh will be landing within Oldest Raleigh when the latest upgrade of Moore Square opens in 2018. Moore Square, a few blocks east of Fayetteville Street, was drawn as one of Raleigh’s four original squares when the city was founded in 1792. Starting in the fall, it will undergo a $12.6 million upgrade in the midst of a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood.
According to the most recent U.S. Census American Community Survey, median family incomes in the tract that contains Moore Square rose from $18,829 in 2010 to $47,917 in 2015, a startling 254 percent increase.
Grayson Maughan, a Raleigh park planner, says the city kept in mind the area’s diverse population when developing ideas for the site.
“With this being a city park, it is a public place, and we want everyone to be comfortable,” Maughan says. “We thought about the population of Raleigh and how the park will be programmed moving forward.”
If current plans proceed as scheduled, it will end years of delays, most of which can be ascribed to the slow grind of city bureaucracy.
According to city records and published reports, the city completed a master plan for the park in 2011, and the city council approved funding in May 2014.
In the spring of 2015, the design company Sasaki Associates held a series of public hearings, including more than thirty meetings with stakeholders. Over the remainder of the year, a “priorities report” gained the approval of the Moore Square Leadership Group,” the parks department, the Recreation and Greenways Advisory Board, and city council.
In February 2016, the Council of State signed off on the renovation, a necessary step since the state owns the land. Fifteen months later, the city is now ready to take bids from contractors.
From its inception, Moore Square and its surrounding blocks have been home to a succession of churches, schools, and businesses, including the Baptist grove, an outdoor worship spot in the early nineteenth century; the City Market, built starting in 1914, the former Hugh Morson High School from 1925–55; and the Richard B. Harrison Library for African-Americans, opened in 1935.
Maughan says the renovated park will recall the legacy of the Hargett Street businesses once called Black Main Street by marking it as an end point of the in-progress South Park Heritage Trail.
“This is one of the first physical locations where this walk will be recognized,” she says.
Moore Square will contain a cafeto be run by Empire Eatsand public restrooms. There will be a children’s area and an open space where a concert stage can be erected.
Three “grove” areas, with stones tables and other public artworks by Texas artist Brad Goldberg, will offer hangout spaces amid the venerable giant trees, which have been a focal point since at least the turn of the twentieth century.
The work of arranging the cedars, sugar maples, and white oaks was supervised by Colonel Fred. A Olds, The News & Observer reported in 1900. Previously the square had been “completely over run” with grass, the newspaper said in 1891, adding a year later that the square’s fountain was “out of fix.”
Work on Moore Square has come in spurts over the last several years. Since the city council received the master plan in 2011 and approved funding three years later, several different start dates have come and gone. But this time, bids for the project have arrived or will show up in less than two weeks, Maughan says.
“We had our mandatory site visit with the contractors, and bids are due June 5,” Maughan says. “That would put us starting construction in the fall. I know that, myself included, everyone is ready to see this happen.”
Along with the much-improved, just-completed GoRaleigh transit mall, this section of downtown is also attracting workers to the Red Hat building and other locations, and residents to the Skyhouse, Edison, and Lincoln high-rises.
Meanwhile, even though the Salvation Army shelter has moved to Capital Boulevard and Oak City Outreach will move a couple of miles to South Wilmington Street, the square still offers a resting place for Raleigh’s homeless population. At least for the immediate future, they’ll have to find somewhere else to go: Moore Square will be closed for the remake beginning this fall.
Milton Jones, fifty-nine, was resting on a Moore Square bench one day last week. “It’s going to be good for some people,” he said of the park’s planned remake, gesturing to the mix of nineteenth-century facades and high-rises neighboring Moore Square. “It’ll be convenient to some of them.”
Said fifty-two-year-old David Moore, who was also spending the day in Moore Square: “They don’t want more of the homeless floating around. But what are they going to do with themwith us?”
This article appeared in print with the headline “Finally!.”