The Southeast Gateway Council hired me to draft a proposal articulating their plans to revitalize an area in southeastern Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
Creating a New Community Asset: A Proposal
A Critically Important Community Project: The Southeast Gateway
The Southeast Gateway Plan, created in November 1992, is a progressive, comprehensive plan for revitalizing the area between Winston-Salem State University, the North Carolina School of the Arts and Old Salem. The plan is so named because this area serves as a primary entrance to Winston-Salem and is often the first part of our community visitors see. Created by an Urban Design Assistance Team from the American Institute of Architects, the Southeast Gateway Plan was adopted by Winston-Salem aldermen as the official area development plan in April 1993.
Much has been accomplished already. The City of Winston-Salem has improved Stadium Drive between Winston-Salem State University and the Salem Academy and College campuses. The North Carolina Department of Transportation has begun studies for major road changes. The three colleges, Old Salem and Home Moravian Church are developing joint plans for further enhancements.
Salem Creek, however, remains neglected. Four city parks alongside the creek—Civitan Park, Central Park, Happy Hill Park and Washington Park—are disconnected and under-used. The haphazard arrangement of streets remains dangerously confusing and congested.
An eight-acre central industrial core southwest of the Historic District has continued to decline as well. A hodgepodge of unrelated businesses is scattered throughout the area alongside vacant, decaying buildings. There are few places to eat, shop or enjoy entertainment.
Ironically, several of the city’s most attractive tourist destinations, vital educational institutions and valuable business resources surround this rundown area. Old Salem, the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts, Winston-Salem State University, Salem College and Academy, the North Carolina School of the Arts and the F. Roger Page Business and Technology Center are all diminished, individually and collectively, by their proximity to this blighted area.
Because these institutions attract hundreds of thousands of visitors and nearly 5,000 student-residents to Winston-Salem each year, their bleak surroundings have a disproportionately large negative impact on our entire community’s image. These surroundings also tend to discourage contact among area students, residents, employees and visitors, keeping the Southeast Gateway area’s major institutions and neighborhoods isolated from one another.
Recognizing the considerable value and historical significance of southeast Winston-Salem to our city, administrators from area institutions have joined with Winston-Salem business and civic leaders to support the Southeast Gateway Plan as the ideal way to turn this community liability into an asset.
A Community Centerpiece: The Southeast Gateway Retail Village
As part of the Southeast Gateway Plan, the centerpiece of the revitalized area will be an inviting public plaza and a retail village, complete with shops, restaurants, visitor information centers and a post office. The unattractive collection of businesses and abandoned buildings will give way to beautiful, newly-constructed retail spaces designed to reflect the historic significance of the area and to provide much-needed products and services to residents, students, area workers and tourists.
In addition to developing the retail village, the Urban Design Assistance Team recommends strengthening the currently disconnected Greenway through the four parks and developing visually appealing multiple-use park lands on either side of the creek through the Southeast Gateway area. The Strollway from downtown will be extended through the area to the new entrance planned for the North Carolina School of the Arts. The dysfunctional tangle of streets will be replaced by a greatly simplified road system.
The Southeast Gateway will unquestionably be an asset to benefit the entire community, welcoming and creating a favorable first impression among the many thousands of visitors to area institutions as well as providing convenient access to goods and services to those who study, live and work nearby.
Among the project’s many additional benefits:
- The Southeast Gateway will, at long last, create a truly appropriate setting for several of the city’s most important assets, including Old Salem, the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts, Winston-Salem State University, Salem College and Academy, the North Carolina School of the Arts and the F. Roger Page Business and Technology Center.
- The Southeast Gateway’s park lands along the reclaimed Salem Creek, pedestrian connections and central retail village will serve to unify southeast Winston-Salem’s heretofore isolated institutions and neighborhoods into a true community, encouraging interaction among diverse groups of students, residents and employees.
- The carefully planned, coherent combination of revitalized, consolidated public parks, new retail enterprises and improved visitor accommodations, along with newly-unified existing area organizations and institutions, will derive great strength and vitality from its wholeness. The parks will attract customers to the shops and restaurants, while the shops and restaurants attract people to the parks. Area residents and students will mingle with neighbors and visitors to Old Salem as they enjoy the public plaza. College students will discover the rewards of community service while helping neighborhood children plan for happy, successful futures in the William C. Sims Community Center at Happy Hill Gardens.
- The Southeast Gateway Plan will convert an unattractive, under-utilized area of prime property into a beautiful setting for healthy, productive businesses, able to create new jobs and contribute to the city’s economy and tax base.
- The Southeast Gateway Plan will greatly simplify traffic flow through the area, improving safety and convenience.
- Proposed shuttle bus routes will reduce automobile traffic while effectively linking area institutions with each other and with downtown and the new research park now being developed.
The City of Winston-Salem owns more than 1.5 acres of streets and former railroad properties within the development area. By closing parts of two streets as planned and incorporating the property into the public plaza and retail village, some city land can be added to the tax base as retail property.
Making the Plan a Reality
At the request of the Winston-Salem Board of Aldermen, The Trust for Public Land has researched the feasibility and costs of assembling approximately eight acres of commercial properties west of Main Street between Salem Avenue and Salem Creek as the location for the proposed public plaza and retail village. The Trust, a national non-profit land conservancy organization, contracted for title searches, environmental audits, appraisals and an economic feasibility study and has negotiated with the eight area landowners to secure options to purchase their properties at fair market prices.
The Trust found no problems with titles and no difficult environmental problems with the properties. According to the feasibility study, a 40,000 square foot retail complex to serve students, faculty and staff of nearby colleges, neighborhood residents and visitors to Old Salem, could be successfully developed on the properties if Old Salem, Inc., would relocate its Visitor Center within the development. The author of the feasibility study calls this combination of the Old Salem Visitor Center and the Southeast Gateway’s retail village “a ’win-win’ situation for all parties involved.”
Old Salem’s trustees have agreed to move their Visitor Center to the Southeast Gateway retail village as part of the area’s redevelopment. A branch of the Winston-Salem Visitors Center within the retail village will extend the present downtown center’s services to the Old Salem area where more than 300,000 visitors come each year.
The City of Winston-Salem will undertake development of the public plaza and pedestrian connectors and set aside a site for the Visitor Center. With approval of the three nearby colleges and Old Salem, the City will also contract with a developer for the retail center.
The Community Challenge
Full implementation of the Southeast Gateway Plan will present our community with a number of challenging tasks, the last of which may not be completed for 10 or 15 years. Of immediate, urgent concern, however, is the purchase of properties to be occupied by the public plaza and retail village before options expire.
The Trust for Public Land, at the City’s request, has advanced its own funds to purchase two of the largest parcels in the development district. The City will soon purchase the properties from the Trust, using funds from Forsyth County and from private donors to supplement the City’s contribution to the project.
Another owner has agreed to donate his property, valued at $250,000, towards creation of a new Visitors Center for Old Salem. Even so, the costs of acquiring and clearing all the land are considerably more than the amount to be realized from the resale of part of the land for retail development. Because City and County officials, representatives of the colleges and Old Salem, and corporate executives all clearly recognize and agree on The Southeast Gateway’s importance to our community, they have worked together in developing a plan to finance the costs of the project.
The County has pledged $300,000, and the City has allocated $570,000 for land purchases. Trustees of Old Salem, Winston-Salem State University, Salem Academy and College and the North Carolina School of the Arts have been working with executives of Wachovia Bank to raise the additional private funds needed. Already, they have raised more than $800,000 from private sources, but still more will be needed, together with proceeds from sale of part of the land to a developer, in order to fund purchase of the remaining parcels.
Your Role in Securing This Vital Community Asset
Winston-Salem vitally needs the Southeast Gateway. If the project is to be successful, private funds must be committed now. Timing is critical. A failure to secure immediate support could conceivably jeopardize the entire project.
As a community asset, The Southeast Gateway clearly represents a sound investment that will pay healthy dividends to our entire city for years to come. However, it is only with your immediate commitment to join our public-private partnership that redevelopment of the central industrial core property can be possible.
We urge you to consider thoughtfully your role in securing and fully implementing the Southeast Gateway Plan and to support generously the land purchase for the public plaza and retail village.
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