RALEIGH – Leaders at N.C. State University are seeking approval for new zoning from the City of Raleigh that would lead to a vastly different Centennial Campus, including towers up to 28 stories that would dwarf existing buildings and also lead to a more density of people and office space.

“The university is seeking a rezoning to modernize the zoning framework on its Centennial Campus. The rezoning will align the zoning with the City of Raleigh’s updated zoning ordinances and adopt the Campus Master Plan (CMP) zoning district, a framework that is designed to enable large institutional landowners to establish a zoning framework based on a holistic master plan,” explains Alicia Knight, Associate Vice Chancellor, Real Estate and Development at North Carolina State University.

“The rezoning will enable NC State to continue fulfilling the vision of bipartisan state leaders who granted the land to launch Centennial more than 30 years ago. It will enable a vibrant future for Centennial Campus consistent with current development trends and aligned with the university’s vision for a mixed-use and vibrant learn, live, work, play environment on Centennial.”

Long a hub for innovation and research as well as homes for technology firms such as Red Hat before moving to downtown Raleigh, communications services Bandwidth and power giant ABB, Centennial Campus dates back to the 1980s. With features such as a golf course, hotel, meeting center and a public school, the campus is built on a history of public-private partnerships.

A map of the Centennial Campus rezoning plan.

Now, Knight says, the university wants to evolve to become bigger, better – and newer.

“The vision for Centennial is aligned with NC State’s mantra – “Think and Do the Extraordinary.” The rezoning will well position the university to continue working with existing partners and seize opportunities to fulfill its three-tiered mission of teaching, research and statewide outreach as opportunities arise,” she explained.

If approved, the Centennial plan would produce over time a very different campus. [The university has created a website that includes information about its plans and request.]

“The 21st century vision for Centennial Campus embraces a vibrant learn, live, work, play environment that is more urban in certain areas than the current Centennial Campus environment. To accomplish this, the framework establishes ‘districts’ within the campus that respect existing natural and physical characteristics, maintain robust open spaces and identify certain areas of the campus where increased height is appropriate,” Knight says.

As for the skyscrapers, there is not a hard-and-fast commitment to building any – yet.

“The goal of increased height in certain locations is to create a vibrant and active environment where industry and academia collide to innovate,” Knight explains.

Centennial Campus (NCSU photo)

“To be clear, we’re requesting the flexibility of building heights up to 28 stories in one 32-acre area where we have future plans for a mixed-use innovation district. The campus will continue to maintain recreation space and enhance public connectivity to Centennial and Lake Raleigh, as well as complement Centennial’s proximity to Dorothea Dix Park.”

The Spring Hill area that’s adjacent to the campus and would be overlooked by any towers is not part of the rezoning, the university notes in its rezoning request.

Knight also describes as “modest” a sought-for increase of Centennial occupied space by nearly 2 million square feet.

“In the context of a campus of 1,000 acres, the square footage of development requested is modest,” she notes.

“The zoning framework takes a long-term view of future growth and development on Centennial Campus. The rezoning is not simply about one project or one period in time, but a project that will lay the groundwork for future teaching, research and innovation, and that will drive broad benefits to Raleigh and beyond for decades to come.”

In the rezoning request, NC State notes that Centennial Campus “was established in 1984 through an initial land allocation by then Governor James B. Hunt, Jr. and envisioned a new type of research, innovation and public-private partnership campus. The campus was originally zoned in 1988 to enable educational, research and public-private partnership activities along with residential, and recreation uses through a
phased-master plan. The zoning was incrementally updated in subsequent years to add additional land to the campus, but corresponding increases to the buildable area were not made in connection with those land additions.”

More density in times of COVID?

When asked about why add to Centennial Campus in these days of COVID-19 when education and work from home have become mandated, Knight says the university is committed to “unique hands-on learning opportunities.”

“NC State has a unique land-grant responsibility to North Carolina and its citizens, and while we diligently work to keep our campus community safe in the midst of a global pandemic, our educational, research and outreach mission continues,” she explains.

“Centennial Campus creates unique hands-on learning opportunities for students, advances research that makes its way to the market to benefit society, and has become a major economic driver for the region. We are working hard every day to be best positioned to serve our students, our community and our state – now and well beyond the conclusion of this pandemic.”

Public meetings are set for Nov. 17 and 18 at which interested parties can participate virtually. NC State leadership is already behind the project, Knight adds, as are the property owners.

Alicia Knight (NCSU photo)

“The 21st century vision for Centennial Campus is one that is championed by Chancellor [Randy] Woodson and supported by leaders throughout the organization,” she says.

“The university has engaged {he property owners] both the Board of Trustees of the NC State University Endowment Fund and representatives of the State of North Carolina in discussions about the development of the zoning application.”

NC State chose to work with the Parker Poe law firm in Raleigh as part of a “project team of experts to assist in preparation of the rezoning application and navigation of the process,” Knight adds..

While news about the rezoning emerged only recently, Knight says ideas have been under consideration for some time.

“Discussions regarding the potential for a rezoning of Centennial have been underway since prior to my arrival at the university this summer,” she points out. Knight joined the NC State administration in July. She had been senior associate vice president for operations at George Washington University.

So what are the next steps for Centennial if the rezoning is approved?

Says Knight: “The university will continue to identify opportunities to develop and activate Centennial Campus consistent with its teaching, research and public-private partnership mission and the vision of creating an urban and vibrant learn, live, work, play campus where academia and industry collide and innovate.”