Martha Quillin, Staff Writer RALEIGH - Tens of millions of dollars are being spent to make downtown Raleigh a more walkable, livable environment.

The Raleigh Urban Design Center, part of the city's planning division, will host its second Art of Downtown Living Home Tour, featuring more than a dozen properties representing a range of housing options. Because the bulk of what exists or is under construction in the area are condominiums, that's mostly what's on the tour. But a couple of single-family homes and some apartments are also on the tour. Some of the properties are new construction, others are historic buildings that started out as industrial or retail operations and have been adapted for the needs of modern living.

Whether they're walking across creaky pine floors installed in the late 1800s or gazing into manicured courtyards that provide flashes of green amid the concrete and brick, visitors may see why 3,000 people are now living in Raleigh's core, and why 10,000 are expected to call it home in two to three years.

"What I see here today is very different from what I recall being here 20 years ago on a visit," said Mitchell Silver, planning director for the city of Raleigh. The people moving downtown, he says, are "those that want an urban lifestyle, who want to have more amenities in walking distance -- restaurants, culture, the arts, parks. It's those who want to live near where they work, and don't want to drive as much."

The properties open for viewing tend to fall on the high end of the cost-per-square-footage scale, reflecting the increasing demand. However, a couple of residents of the income-restricted Prairie Building also will open the doors of their apartments for the event, which runs from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., rain or shine.

For a complete list of the properties on the tour, go to raleighdowntownliving.com. The tour coincides with the annual Artsplosure celebration, so downtown parking may be tight. Once you find a spot, do as urbanites do: Leave your car and take to the sidewalks.

Veteran downtown Raleigh workers remember this as the old Hudson Belk store, first built in the 100 block of Fayetteville Street in the 1930s and expanded in the 1960s. Many fondly recall it as one of downtown's last retail holdouts, a department store that kept its doors open until the mid-1990s. After it closed, the beleaguered building attracted pigeons and a series of speculators for nearly a decade, until Hudson Developers, owned primarily by Vaughn King, bought it and started anew.

The company hired Raleigh architectural firm Clearscapes to figure out how to use what remained of the building: little more than the structural steel, the floor plate and the elevator cars and shafts.

Today, the five-story Hudson has 64 condominiums done in what John Reese, design architect for the project, calls a truly urban style that sets it apart from most of its neighbors.

Though potential buyers often tell real estate agent Dell Paschal as they enter one unit or another that they recall having lunch in the Capital Room, which must have been right here, or they used to shop for dresses over there, those memories are faulty. The two old buildings that made up the store were demolished. What stands there now is all new construction, though the architects used the original floor plan and salvaged the steel and two of the store's elevators. The only other vintage element is a collection of black-and-white photos of the original building that hang in the corridors throughout.

The fact that visitors think they've been there before is a tribute to the power of nostalgia and a design that Reese says was intended to take what remained of Hudson Belk's retail display space -- light, space and air -- and turn it into a place where life is on display.

The townhouse that Mary Stewart and her husband, Michael, bought in the development on South Blount Street, across Davie Street from City Market, a year and a half ago was looking a little dowdy. It hadn't been updated since walls of mirrored tiles were in style.

The Stewarts took those down, then updated the kitchen with new cherry-tone maple cabinets, granite countertops and a stone-tile floor. Each one took a bathroom to redo; Mary chose oceanic blue-green with glass tile trim, while her husband went with bronze. Wall colors in nearly every room of the two-bedroom home look like they were taken from the shades of those tiny lollipops that insurance agents offer to clients who come in for office consultations: blue raspberry, lime, peach.

From November to May, in Rancho Mirage, outside Palm Springs, the couple are surrounded by the browns of the California desert, and their lives are governed by the automobile. They drive to the grocery store, out to lunch to meet friends.

"On weekends, especially, it's nice," she said by phone from Rancho Mirage. "There are all these activities, there is so much to do. There is music, and the museums, and we can walk to restaurants and to church. In California, you have to have a car to get around. There, we just park the car and leave it."

Builder Phil Prado, who specializes in restorations of Victorian homes, built this one from the ground up in the style of houses he's been bringing back to life for years.

From the outside, the three-story home looks like a lot of its neighbors in Historic Oakwood, with its clapboard exterior, leaded glass in the front door and deep front porch with a high cupola on the southeastern corner. At 4,000 square feet, the house could look at home on a 100-acre spread in the country. But here in the city, where the lot is only 50 by 100 feet, it looks just as proper slipped in close to its neighbors, like one more stay in a lady's corset.

Mary Hilbert had hoped to buy a home in downtown that she could convert for office space for her law firm. Then she encountered the rising prices of the downtown housing market.

She and her husband decided instead to let Prado build them a house with space for the law office. Hilbert Law Firm will occupy a room on the first floor that might have been called a parlor in the 1890s. The family will use the rest of the house -- four bedrooms, three and a half baths and enough porches and decking to make up for the fact that the back yard is only 25 by 30 feet.

For Hilbert, the most attractive feature of the home is not its crystal chandeliers, its green marble kitchen countertops, or even its two-person claw-footed bathtub with jets.

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