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The Most Reclusive Building Downtown

Every city has its share of buildings considered “eyesores”, and the AT&T building (former BellSouth building) certainly qualifies as that. Built in 1948 and standing 8 stories tall, it creates a virtual pedestrian desert on the block bounded by Hargett, McDowell, Morgan, and Salisbury Streets.

Cited by Dana at gogoraleigh as part of a “downtown concrete canyon”, it is certainly one of the least appealing buildings of Raleigh. It was mentioned in his series of suggestions to build a better downtown:

A second step toward correcting this block is for AT&T to move their operations to another site. Certainly today’s microtechnology doesn’t require such a massive complex, and could either be rearranged on site or relocated off-site. The classic building at McDowell and Morgan could either be renovated or replaced with something more conducive to downtown life.

Unfortunately for those who would like to see this space put to better use and AT&T to move on to less prime real estate, it’s not going to happen. I recently spoke with an AT&T technician who has spent a good amount of time in this building, and he explained why it will probably be sticking around for our lifetime:

All the copper wires that go underground are all centralized to that building. If you were to take the building up, it would be nothing but a giant plate of copper. If the building was blown up, you’d have to rebuild it, in the exact same spot. There is too much copper going underground to that spot for that building to go anywhere. As long as there are telephones and internet, that building will be sitting in that spot.

All the downtown copper leads here because it is a switching station, serving as the backbone for the vast majority of telecommunications in the region. There are several floors that are nothing but hundreds of thousands of cards that route voice and data traffic, as well as provide dial tones. The ground floor consists of a series of generators and exhaust vents — if the power goes down, communication must continue on its own power.

Also contributing to unappealing nature of the complex is the radio tower above. The same AT&T technician said that it was no longer in use.

The tower is connected to the building via a rickety bridge (above).

View of the city from the top of the tower

It’s sad that a valuable piece of real estate with so little pedestrian value is a permanent fixture of downtown. Its central location could really transform this “concrete canyon” of a block sandwiched between Nash Square and Capitol Square.

There is no reason why it needs to be located here. It isn’t often I say this – but despite its age, this building should be demolished.  The very specialized use that it has been put to over the previous 6 decades means that rehabbing or repurposing it would likely not be practical.

Sadly, this building isn’t going anywhere. We’re stuck with it and it will continue to be a sterile and boring part of the downtown landscape for some time.

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