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Downtown: "A Lot of Good Things Happening"

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The decision's been made to tear out the Fayetteville Mall. A TTA commuter rail station is on the drawing board just to the west. Progress Energy is conjuring tall buildings--at least two, maybe more--to the east. The business crowd still wants a new convention center--they've been nursing their wounds since that referendum they lost to soon-to-be-mayor Tom Fetzer and the conservatives a decade ago.

But now Charles Meeker is mayor, sprawl is recognized as a problem, and hopes for the long-awaited, never-quite-realized downtown revival are high again. And while the economy is in the gutter, what better time to plan the kind of downtown it should be? That's the job of the Liveable Streets Partnership, co-chaired by Meeker ally Thomas Crowder, the architect whose patience as the sometimes lone voice for strategic planning on the planning commission is starting to be rewarded.

"Think of the downtown as a 150-acre planned development," Crowder says. "What are the key things that need to be in it? Where should they go? If there's a new convention center, where should it go? We're looking at transit options--trams, two-way streets, new streetscapes. We've made some mistakes in the past, but there's a lot of positive energy now, a lot of good things happening."

Crowder, for one, prefers many mid-size buildings to a few tall ones with empty lots in between. (They just drive land prices higher as everybody shoots for the sky, he thinks.) A new convention hall should be downtown, nowhere else. His latest brainstorm: Why not combine it with the TTA stop at West and Hargett? You could come right in by train or car. Think about it ... and be sure to send in your own ideas, images, pictures from magazines, whatever.

Better yet, join the committee. Crowder says 300 folks have signed on so far, and the first meeting is this Thursday, Sept. 26, 2-5 p.m. at Exploris museum. At 5, everyone's invited to a (free) showing of the IMAX movie, Shackleton's Antarctic Adventure.

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