City Project recalibrates with free concert series

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Buck Kester and Richard Wood credit Jordan Green
Buck Kester and Richard Wood

by Jordan Green

As the City Project struggles to get back on its feet, a number of other developments portend promise for the Triad’s third largest city.

This is a rebuilding year for the City Project.

The nonprofit tasked with revitalizing the urban core of High Point received a rude shove towards self-sufficiency last year when city council voted to yank its executive director, reassigning Wendy Fuscoe to a related position as core city administrator that is accountable to the city rather than the outfit’s independent board of directors.

Stripped of its staff, the City Project’s board of directors is doing its best to maintain momentum under the leadership of Chairman Richard Wood, a retired financial advisor.

“We elected some new members of our board last year that we never put on the board because we were in such a state of flux,” he said. “It just didn’t seem fair to tie up some volunteers when we weren’t sure what the City Project’s function was gonna be. We’ve kind of righted ourselves a little bit. We’re, I think, getting back on track, but it’s been a tough nine months for this organization.”

Only seven out of 16 board members, including two council members assigned as liaisons, were present at the board’s meeting on Monday. Without a quorum the board was unable to approve a financial report that Wood put together. Fuscoe, who attended in her new capacity as core city coordinator, advised the board that approval through email would require a unanimous vote.

The nonprofit’s primary project this year is a series of five free concerts at the Depot in the heart of the city, beginning on May 22 and continuing every Friday through June 19. City Project has hired Durham-based Sonic Pie Productions to put on the concert series. Wood expressed particular enthusiasm for their second booking.

“This ain’t beach music,” he told the board. “It’s a Carolinas kind of rockin’ gospel bluesy kind of music. The Black Lillies are playing on the 29th of May. I have heard them, looked at them on a YouTube video, and they are dynamite. I think you’re really going enjoy it. But it’s not something we’re all gonna get up and dance to in the old traditional way.”

At the end of the meeting, Wood invited board members to stick around and listen to one of the Black Lillies’ YouTubes on his laptop.

“This group appeared on the Grand Ole Opry,” he said, “which is pretty big time.”

A concert series similar in ambition and scope to Winston-Salem’s annual Second Sundays on Fourth or Greensboro’s City Market might seem modest in comparison to the ambitious menu of street dieting, chopped shipping containers, entrepreneurial incubation and pedestrian-oriented plazas envisioned in the Ignite High Point master plan. But City Project’s individual board members are each involved in a number of efforts that in sum would seem to mark progress for the late-adopting city.

Board member Buck Kester has been working to redevelop the old Lyles Chevrolet property on North Main Street, which has already attracted notice through its lease to the new 98 Asian Bistro restaurant. Kester, who manages the property, said he has been in talks with Joshua Stegenga, a partner with XII Tribes Brewing, about the possibility of the brewpub startup leasing one of the suites.

“They just met with High Point University about 10 days ago to do a layout on a space available,” Kester said. “He said they had a ball doing it, and that’s in the process of going forward.” Kester added that if a deal can be reached, the brewpub will likely open sometime between September and January.

“I told him he’s got first refusal on the spot,” Kester said. “And hopefully it will come to fruition.”

Meanwhile, Brown Truck Brewing is moving forward with plans to open at its North Main Street location several blocks south in Uptowne. Wood said he was impressed by a presentation made by Brown Truck Brewing partner Britt Lytle made to his rotary club. Wood said Lytle told him he anticipates the brewpub will open at the end of July.

“He talked about how these breweries seem to feed off of each other in the town,” Wood said. “You know, where there’s more than one; they share recipes and ideas and kind of do things together. He talked about they may be brewing with a brewery in Morganton and doing a flavor or a kind of recipe and that kind of thing.

“He said it’s not what the brewery does as a brewery so much; it’s what it causes to blossom around it,” Wood continued. “It causes other buildings to fill up and concepts to come to being and different kinds of shops and restaurants. They’re not going to serve any food — you can walk over to Alex’s House and get a sandwich. They’ll have food trucks there from time to time.”

Dorothy Darr, a board member who is the executive director of the Southwest Renewal Foundation, told the board she has been researching a federal grant to enhance High Point’s transportation system. She said she plans to meet with Mayor Bill Bencini and City Manager Greg Demko to apply for federal transportation funds to purchase two trolleys from Thomas Built Buses in High Point that could potentially provide service to the Amtrak station at the Depot, High Point University, Washington Street, High Point Regional Hospital and Piedmont Triad International Airport.

US Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx recently announced a $500 million competitive grant program called TIGER, or Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery. Winston-Salem City Councilman Dan Besse is also interested in pursuing the grant to pay for renovations to Union Station in the neighboring Triad city. The deadline to apply is June 5.

In her current role as core city coordinator, Fuscoe has been researching an incentives program to stimulate investment in the urban areas of High Point. She undertook the initiative at the behest of Councilman Jason Ewing, who has sometimes found himself at odds with the City Project but occupies one of the two seats on the group’s board reserved for city council members.

Fuscoe said targeting incentives geographically would require the creation of a municipal service district except without an additional tax levy. The town of Cary and the city of Brevard have launched similar programs already. Fuscoe said the city needs to move immediately on the initiative because municipal service districts must take effect at the beginning of the new budget year, and public hearings would need to be held before any changes could be made.

Fuscoe has also been active in a range of food security efforts, including developing a plan for a food forest on the Southside and meeting with at least one corner market owner who is introducing fresh produce and cheese into his offerings.

Fuscoe and other members of the urban agriculture committee of the Greater High Point Food Alliance met with residents of the Southside neighborhood recently.

“One of the old guys said, ‘Back in the day there was an apple orchard down here,’” Fuscoe recounted. “And a girl remembered picking pears. And what we’re talking about is putting in fruit trees. And the community was quite excited about it.”

Fuscoe said she draws a link between urban food production and helping local corner markets add healthy food to their shelves.

“A lot of these little snack shacks just need a little bit of help,” she said. “The [UNC] School of Government wrote a blog this past February about how local governments can help alleviate food deserts and hunger issues. So I’m thinking in my mind: Maybe local governments can do little grants, but that all goes back to creating an area where we can offer incentives.”

Fuscoe and Wood pointed to Morganton, a small city of 16,918 in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, as a model for High Point.

“Morganton’s been through worse than we have,” Wood said. “They lost every damn furniture company they had, hosiery mills, textiles — they’ve lost everything, too, and they’ve got two breweries up there, and things are making a little comeback. And we in High Point seem to be struggling to get back on track.”

  • Observer

    First Ms Fuscoe was “reassigned” after complaints of being well paid with very few results, therefore making her a candidate for regular city employment, with no pay cut and better benefits.
    The few mentioned advancements here are done the old fashioned way: with private money that is smarter than public funds in how well it all gets spent.
    Food problems?
    Check out the new Rhino Shorts column for a take on that one.
    High Point suffers mostly from big city envy as we surpass every city of size in our state in taxes and fess and utility costs combined with none of the larger benefits: failed spending policies.
    Most our problems are from decades of secrecy in things done that the public has been unaware of or asked to approve.
    Time to pay the bills, and become a little more open in spending decisions that the taxpayers get hung with.