by Jordan Green
A handful of big projects are transforming Winston-Salem and Greensboro.
The Wake Forest Innovation Quarter on the eastern flank of downtown Winston-Salem is reshaping the urban landscape, with bucolic Bailey Park and Flywheel Coworking only the most recent manifestations of the transformation.
Downtown Greensboro woke from its slumber with the activation of RailYard at the South End, while also blossoming on the north side, with Preyer Brewing and Crafted joining Deep Roots Market in anchoring LoFi, a recently acvtivated space.
While one can argue about which particular project made the difference, it’s apparent that the Twin City and the Gate City have already hit their respective game-changers, and what follows will be consolidation and a building upon strengths. High Point, in contrast — while boasting some fabulous infrastructure to support the biannual furniture market — is still looking for an urban game-changer of its own to breathe new life into its core. One potential catalyst that appears to be on track, according to all reports, is a new ballpark that could potentially link a dormant end of the central business district to the Washington Street commercial district.
But there’s a project far smaller in scale with no public funding that may have already tipped the balance in High Point in the past five days. That’s Brown Truck Brewery, the brewpub started by Britt Lytle, John Vaughan and brewmaster Ian Burnett, which made its first official pour on Feb. 12. The handsome public house, converted from a former appliance repair shop and outfitted with a finished concrete bar, long tables and rustic wood finish, is strategically located in the heart of Uptowne — a surrogate downtown in a city whose central business district is colonized by the furniture market.
On its second day in business, Lytle surveyed the upbeat crowd surging through his brewpub, and remarked, “I’m ready for anything: another restaurant, whatever. We just really want people to take ownership of this place.”
When Lytle and Vaughan dreamed up Brown Truck they envisioned a place that Emerywood residents and High Point University students could walk or ride their bikes to. They intentionally decided not to serve food because they didn’t want to be all things to all people. The idea is that instead they’ll invite food trucks to pull in to the parking lot, or cater to people who want to stop for a drink after dinner at a nearby restaurant. They want to play a complementary role in a larger organism made up of interdependent parts.
David Armstrong, who owns the Brewer’s Kettle with one location each in High Point and Kernersville, shares the spirit.
“Fantastic!” he said, hoisting a glass of Brown Truck’s pale ale as a patron asked him for a verdict. He said he sees no competition between the two businesses. As a bottle shop with taps that doesn’t make its own product, Brewer’s Kettle serves a different function than Brown Truck. And anything that stimulates interest in craft beer can only help his business, as Armstrong sees it.
The key ingredient for urban revitalization is people. A beautiful park, an impressive sports or arts facility, or a major mixed-use project can all make a difference, but they don’t ultimately matter and don’t need to happen if they don’t draw people. People getting together for meetings or bumping into each other in chance encounters is, after all, what makes up the social fabric that gives a city its personality. A brewpub is appropriately scaled for this kind of activity.
When I visited on Brown Truck’s second day in business, Doug Clark, an editorial writer at the Greensboro News & Record and High Point resident, was enjoying a English dark ale when Lytle stopped to chat.
The two agreed that they wished High Point City Council had acted on a recommendation to impose a road diet on North Main Street.
“To me, it’s as if — take the Friendly Center in Greensboro, which is probably the hottest shopping area in the county — someone said, ‘Hey, I’ve got an idea: Let’s put a highway right through the middle of it with cars going 45 mph. It’ll be great!’ We’re so obsessed with getting people here, but we don’t give any thought to encouraging them to slow down and stay for awhile.”
I wanted to ask Lytle if the city is going to start enforcing the pedestrian crosswalk in front of the business so that people can safely cross North Main Street, but I was afraid his answer might dampen the celebratory mood.
For revitalization to continue, one small success must follow another. A functioning crosswalk is the kind of small detail that can determine whether the fragile enterprise of revitalization takes hold or not.