Raleigh’s first Union Station faces uncertain future as it hits the market

For over 130 years, Raleigh’s first Union Station, formerly called Union Depot, has stood on the corner of Dawson and Martin streets, overlooking Nash Square in the Warehouse District.

It’s a far cry from its glory days after a 1980s remodel, but parts remain: The platform and viaduct are no longer there, but the head house, built in the Romanesque Revival-style, survives as an office building, minus its tower. Much of its original red brick façade, now painted white, also endures, including the coal chute that used to heat the station.

But is that enough to save this relic from the city’s past? It’s now in the hands of the buyer.

Avison Young recently listed 224 S. Dawson St., with a goal of getting about $8 million for it, the Triangle Business Journal first reported.

Legal Aid of North Carolina, which currently owns and occupies the building, plans to move to an office off Rock Quarry Road.

The two-story 29,000-square-foot building sits on about a half-acre within the Depot National Historic District — though it’s not listed on the National Register of Historic Places — and is being advertised as a “redevelopment opportunity.”

“We’re bullish on this asset’s popularity,” listing agent Marcus Jackson told The N&O. “It has limitless flexibility.”


The building has an assessed value of around $5.9 million, and is zoned for up to five stories. However, there’s “heavy precedent” for greater density in the immediate area, the listing notes, with surrounding lots already zoned for up to 20 and 40 stories.

At the opposite corner on Martin and Dawson Streets, a New York developer is already making plans for a 36-story luxury residential tower.

“Odds are it will be very high-density residential, either rental or condos,” Jackson said.

Not everyone is thrilled by the prospect.

Cathleen Turner, regional director at Preservation NC, said the building represents a “significant piece” of Raleigh’s history, even though it doesn’t have designated status. She’d like to see it preserved, especially considering its prominent location within the district, which was separately listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2002.

The lower-density building provides a much-needed buffer, she added, between the high-rise office buildings of the central business district to the east, and the more “human-scale” residential to the west.

“With every sale and redevelopment, we’re losing a bit of that,” she said.

In its heyday, the Depot District was a wholesale distribution hub that included freight and passenger depots, warehouses, factories, hotels, cafes and shops dating back to the 1880s.

When it opened in 1892, Union Station became the epicenter, serving three passenger rail lines with a total of four tracks, connecting New York with Florida. By the late 1950s, many of the factory and warehouse buildings fell out of use.

In recent years, the district has transformed once again. It’s now a mix of art museums, restaurants and retail. Century-old buildings that helped make its namesake are giving way to high rises with the opening of Raleigh Union Station and The Dillon, a mixed-use tower and residential development.

“It would be sad to see it chipped away until there’s really nothing left,” Turner said. “Frankly, we [may] need to start calling it: “Formerly Known As The Warehouse District’.”

By Chantal Allam, The News & Observer

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