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Troubled downtown Raleigh neighborhood in the midst of turnaround

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Developer Richard Johnson hopes to transform Raleigh historic 4th Ward into a place that will attract upscale buyers. Developer Richard Johnson hopes to transform Raleigh historic 4th Ward into a place that will attract upscale buyers.

A Raleigh developer hopes to transform a blighted downtown neighborhood into a place that will attract upscale buyers.

Heavy equipment spent hours knocking down two dilapidated apartment buildings on Dorothea Drive earlier this week. The death of the buildings signals the rebirth of what's left of Raleigh's historic 4th Ward.

"It was an African American district that had 600 homes, schools, churches and banks," explained developer Richard Johnson, of City Space Investment. "It had a trolley and all kinds of shops. It was a thriving community, and unfortunately in the 1970s they demolished almost all of it."

Over the years, what was left of the neighborhood, which is considered part of the gateway to the city, declined and became crime ridden.

These days, those who've become the first homesteaders in the neighborhood say they like what they are seeing.

"Richard is doing a great thing for the community," Matthew May said. "He's really helping to revitalize an important part of Raleigh and Boylan Heights."

Johnson believes in urban revitalization and tries to overcome the obstacles.

"It started off really bad, but once you get people interested and down here living here, it really turns around quickly and we haven't had any problems since we started," he said.

Several years ago, Richard battled the city to rehab a South Saunders Street neighborhood, which at the time was filled with abandoned homes and crime.

"It was kind of scary then," said Brian Karim, who was one of the first to move into the neighborhood. "It's been completely transformed and I don't have any worries anymore."

These days, residents in that South Saunders Street neighborhood call it an urban oasis.

"We are able to walk everywhere -- we have great neighbors," Karim said. "It's a tightknit group down here, and we all actually hang out."

The 4th Ward project is bookended by the Dix campus and the proposed downtown intermodal rail/bus transportation center. But right now both projects are in a state of flux. However Johnson believes they'll eventually by completed and add to the texture of the down residential rebirth.

"We're designing and building this with the idea it's going to be a multi-century place," Johnson said.

"If it takes two or 10 years for those things to happen, it's not important. We're right in the middle of it, and it's going to happen eventually."

Steve Sbraccia

Steve is an award-winning reporter for WNCN and former assistant professor. A seasoned professional, Steve is proud to call the Triangle home since 2005 after over two decades in Boston, Mass.  More>>

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