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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Isabella Cannon, Spring 1993. Interview G-0188. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Reviving the community

Cannon stresses the importance of community revitalization to her mayorship. Arguing that the downtown area of Raleigh was on the decline in the 1970s, Cannon explains how she worked to improve the area. She emphasizes in particular the establishment of a hotel, which included allowing "liquor by the drink" laws, and the renovation of Memorial Auditorium. These were two important developments in helping to resuscitate the community and Cannon includes them among her greatest achievements.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Isabella Cannon, Spring 1993. Interview G-0188. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

The other problem I had, which was urgent, was the condition of the Fayetteville Street Mall. The Civic Center had been opened the year before. It was not attracting business. We had no hotel downtown. Most of the storefronts on Fayetteville Street were boarded up. Many of the stores had been owned by people who had died, and their families had inherited the property. They were in Connecticut or California and cared nothing about the City of Raleigh, North Carolina. Fayetteville Street was pretty much a disaster. The street had been closed to traffic. The few shops that were open were having a very difficult time because people had not adjusted to where they would park when they came downtown, and the whole Fayetteville Street was in serious financial condition. The first thing I needed to do was see if we could get a hotel downtown. We had the Civic Center, but there was no hotel nearby. We approached various hotel chains. My deepest thanks go to Earl Barden who was head of First Union Bank and who carried the responsibility on this. We approached several hotel chains, but the few who came to look would say, "We want no part of this." Finally, the Radisson chain said, "We'll consider it under three conditions. One, that you condemn the land and property where we proposed to build the hotel." This was expensive for the City. Condemning property is very expensive and is not a good way to go if you can help it, but we had to go that way. The second condition was "We need a parking deck." So the parking deck on Salisbury Street was negotiated for, again, at great expense to the City because of the long leases that we had to buy out. The third condition was the one that surprised most people. "You've got to have liquor by the drink." Up to that point you could buy alcohol at ABC stores in Raleigh, but you could not serve alcohol as a drink at a dinner in a restaurant. People went to the ABC stores, bought their alcoholic drink, then would take it with them to the restaurant. The bottle was put on the floor beside the table in a brown paper bag. This meant you had "brown bagging." This meant that at the end of the dinner, you either had to drink all of the alcohol and maybe go home in questionable condition, or you had to carry an open bottle in your car, which was illegal. I campaigned vigorously for liquor by the drink and got the comment, "What's a nice lady like you doing campaigning for liquor by the drink?" I've lived all over the world, I've lived in London, Paris, and Beirut, and I knew that liquor by the drink was so expensive that the notion people had of drunks in the gutter was not going to be realized. We passed liquor by the drink. But again, it was a tremendously difficult thing, but made it possible to get a hotel to come. No convention would come to the Civic Center if people could not buy a cocktail as a highball in their hotel. The Memorial Auditorium was my next problem. It was in terrible condition. We were trying in Raleigh to get the North Carolina Symphony to make Raleigh its home. Competition was strong from Chapel Hill and from Duke in Durham. With great effort, we got a million dollars and renovated the entire inside of the auditorium, including new chairs. We were not able to do anything for the rehearsal halls, but we made the auditorium beautiful with new red seats and painting the interior.