Monday, August 22, 2011

How have the 2001 Legacy Plan strategies worked?

Goler Heights Redevelopment
Significant progress has been made on all of the Downtown and Center City recommendations of the 2001 Legacy Plan. Since the adoption of Legacy, Downtown and the Center City have experienced a great deal of reinvestment and new development. Downtown remains the employment center of the county with approximately 20,000 jobs. New energy has been brought Downtown through the continued expansion of the Piedmont Triad Research Park and the resultant influx of workers from around the country and around the world.

While Downtown development has slowed somewhat as a result of the current state of the world economy, this area has fared better than many other parts of Forsyth County. Between 2000 and 2010 the population Downtown increased from 1083 to 2000 residents, a growth rate of almost 85%. In fact, across the United States, development in urban areas has been fairly resilient during the past four years when compared to suburban and exurban areas. Winston-Salem’s Downtown has seen the completion of the new BB&T Ballpark as well as the Milton Rhodes Center for the Arts, two major cultural and entertainment facilities which have brought more visitors to Downtown.

Due to these and their cultural, entertainment and other leisure-time offerings as well as the expense of commuting, people have rediscovered the benefits of living close to where they work, which has led to the revitalization of neighborhoods in and near Downtown. Several new mixed-use and residential developments have been built or renovated here in recent years including the Goler Heights area, One Park Vista, West End Village, Coe Plaza, Civic Plaza and the Nissen Building.

Historic preservation efforts in the Downtown and Center City have resulted in four new National Register Districts: Downtown North, Holly Avenue, Winston-The tax incentives that come with these designations are already helping in preserving and reusing these important resources.

Fourth Street

Design is recognized as an important component of Downtown. An overlay zoning district for downtown, the Winston Overlay (WO) District was created and adopted in 2010 to help protect the walkable, urban character of the Downtown core from inappropriate suburban-style development. This zoning overlay provides for flexibility in the design and development of Downtown structures while ensuring that basic standards for building location, parking and fa├žade transparency are met. In 2007, the Arts Council formed an initiative to investigate design opportunities with the announcement of eleven bridge replacements along Business 40 as a part of a larger project. The goal of the Creative Corridors Coalition has now evolved to a more comprehensive effort to enhance the appearance of major roadways in the Downtown area.

Fourth Street and Trade Street are flourishing as anchors for the arts and entertainment. The increasing number of retail and restaurant uses has created a Downtown busy with pedestrian activity, day and night. The opening of the Aperture Cinema brings a movie theater back to Downtown for the first time in almost 30 years. In the northwest section of Downtown, two hotels combined with the Convention Center to form the Twin City Quarter, providing significant convention and meeting space for visitors from across the state and region. Annual events such as Rock the Block, the River Run Film Festival and the National Black Theater Festival have helped to give Downtown Winston-Salem regional and national attention.

Memphis Streetcar

Transportation initiatives have also helped the Downtown and Center City to attract jobs and people. The conversion of many one-way streets into two-way facilities has helped Downtown become better connected with the rest of the Center City and helps make the entire area more pedestrian-friendly by slowing down traffic.

Winston-Salem is also part of a national streetcar renaissance, being one of some 40 cities that are now considering or operating a rail-type streetcar. Beginning in the 1890s, Winston developed a streetcar system that served Downtown and the surrounding residential areas. However, in the late 1940s, Winston-Salem followed the national trend of abandoning its fixed rail system. Major goals for a revived modern streetcar system are improving connectivity between activity areas in the Center City, supporting retail and other active business uses, creating an economic catalyst, and cutting down on future additional overall amount of parking that must be provided for Downtown. In 2003, a Streetcar Workshop was held and a feasibility study was completed showing conceptual routes, ridership numbers, development opportunities and funding sources. Based on the experience of other cities which have begun streetcar systems in the last decade, the economic and development impact could be significant, accommodating and attracting over 3.6 billion dollars of new investment adjacent to the streetcar line. As a next step, funding has been secured to conduct an Alternatives Analysis for a streetcar system or other “people mover” options. This is a necessary process if federal funding for any such system is sought.

Planned improvements to Business 40 should also impact the Downtown and Center City. The project, which will include removing and replacing highway pavement as well as replacing bridges and improving ramps, will extend from west of 4th Street to east of Church Street. An extensive citizen participation process has been put in place for the project, and hundreds of local residents as well as institutions and businesses have been contacted about project alternatives. The community has chosen to close the road completely for 2 years rather than have single-lane closures for 6 years. While alternative routes to deal with the shut down are currently being discussed in the community, the project will undoubtedly have short-term consequences for traffic circulation in the entire Center City and beyond. Construction is currently slated for 2018, and the improvements could incorporate striking and artistic design features depending on the results of the Creative Corridors Initiative.

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