Featured photo: Winston-Salem’s old Coca-Cola Bottling Plant is on its way to acquiring local historic landmark status, a designation bestowed by the Forsyth County Historic Resources Commission. (photo by Gale Melcher)

Correction (11/17): An earlier version of this article stated that QAH Group LLC purchased the plant and the land last year. In fact, the plant and surrounding land are owned by Salem Bottling LLC, headed by Jared Rogers. The article has been corrected to reflect this. TCB regrets the error.

Winston-Salem’s Coca-Cola Bottling Company plant is a bewitching architectural masterpiece near Old Salem. The delicate script of the Coca-Cola logo lines the face of the aged building. With years of historical significance and industrial accomplishments within its walls, the factory churned out its internationally beloved product throughout the 20th Century. Now, the location is on its way to acquiring local historic landmark status, a designation bestowed by the Forsyth County Historic Resources Commission. 

As provided by North Carolina law, the designation denotes recognition for properties that are important to the heritage and character of the community. Forsyth County currently has 143 properties designated as local historical landmarks. 

The Historic Resources Commission unanimously recommended approval after a public hearing on the application on Oct. 4; the designation was recommended on Nov. 13 by city councilmembers on the community development, housing and general government committee. It’s up for full council approval at the Nov. 27 city council meeting.

According to the city staff report, the building is “much more stylish than the typical utilitarian factory.” The business that emerged from the 1929 Mediterranean Revival-style industrial building helped fuel the city’s economic and physical growth, and surrounding building additions to the plant continued to pop well into the 1960s.

So how much of this location is slated to be included in the designation? The complete exterior and interior of the Winston Coca-Cola Bottling Company as well as the inside and outside of the plant’s garage and workshop, plus the entire tax block and lot they’re placed upon will be included.

A new life for the building

The plant and surrounding land are owned by Salem Bottling LLC, headed by Jared Rogers. In an interview with Triad City Beat, Rogers said that he plans for it to be a “food-centric development.” 

The goal is for the new development to fill the gap in food service around Old Salem Museums and Gardens, allowing families to stroll from their historical excursion to nearby refreshments instead of walking or driving to find food.

“We’re hoping to have the majority of it open by the end of next year,” he said.

One of the already determined businesses will be a second location of Bobby Boy Bake Shop, the popular Winston-Salem bakery currently perched at the intersection of Robinhood and Reynolda Roads. The shop will also install a commercial kitchen at the new site in Old Salem.

“The commercial kitchen will really allow them to actually expand [their] offerings,” Rogers said of Bobby Boy.

The business often has a long line of eager customers spilling out the door.

“They sell everything they make and they can’t make any more,” Rogers chuckled, adding, “because the kitchen’s limited.”

They will “probably have some AirBNBs up there on the second floor” as well, Rogers said.

Plus, there will be a balcony that overlooks downtown.

“We’re still deciding if we’re going to do event space,” he added.

The historic spaces and the land they’re situated upon were purchased for $2.6 million, Rogers said, as well as 1.8 acres nearby which will be used for parking.

“We’re doing this in a way that preserves the historic nature of the project,” Rogers said. Other competitors who were interested in the land were looking to demolish some of the buildings and prop up housing.

“The competition wanted to just build townhouses on the 1.8 acres,” Rogers said. ”They were gonna tear down two of the buildings and throw more townhouses [at it] and then figure out what to do with the historic building.”

He said that their approach was different. They wanted to preserve the buildings and use the adjacent property for parking.

“The landmark [designation] kind of just preserves it for the long-term, you know, for my kid’s kids,” he said.

What happens when you run a business in a historically protected building?

The designation comes with some financial benefits, according to city documents.

An owner of a designated landmark is eligible to apply for a deferral of up to 50 percent of their annual property tax, just as long as the property’s important historical features are retained. However, if they want to make any changes to their property, the plans must first be reviewed and approved by the Historic Resources Commission.

Hopefully they can avoid the pitfalls of another local business headquartered at a historic location: Roar, a downtown dining hall that opened in 2022 in the building that formerly housed Twin City Motor Company.

Earlier this year, Roar came head to head with the city over their exterior signage.

As reported by FOX8 in January, the sign — emblazoned with a lion’s head — was composed of materials that were not in compliance with the rules.

Forsyth County Design Review Standards for local historic landmarks states that any new additions, exterior alterations or related new construction must not destroy historic materials or features that characterize the property. New additions must be “compatible with the historic materials, features, size, scale and proportion, and massing to protect the integrity of the property and its environment.”

The city’s former Marketing and Communications Director Frank Elliot told FOX8 that the city simply asked that Roar’s owners “follow the same rules that everybody else has to follow when they request and receive designation as a local historic landmark.”

“As part of the quid pro quo they agreed to follow certain rules about maintaining the historic character of the building,” he said.

However, the matter seems to have been resolved. In an October email to TCB, Historic Resources Officer Michelle McCullough stated that the business was “working on installing the new signage that was approved by the HRC.”

So does Rogers anticipate any hiccups? 

“You can’t say never,” he said, but noted that they’ve hired a consultant — architectural historian Heather Fearnbach — to help. Fearnbach “is probably the most knowledgeable in the state,” Rogers said.

“We have to run a parallel path. We can’t do all the soft work and get approved on everything and then start the construction,” he continued.

“I have leases waiting to open, I have capital outstanding,” Rogers said.

In an “ideal scenario,” Rogers added, “you’d have all of that approved, and then you start construction, but that never happens. So you do run the risk.”

“It’s an expensive redevelopment, we are counting on the tax credits,” Rogers admitted.

But Rogers and his team are doing everything they can to preserve the location for future generations. Rogers noted that it’s “amazing how much we are preserving.”

Rogers added that they have gotten “preliminary approval” from organizations like the National Park Service.

“That basically means that the project is a go but no guarantees that they will accept it after we complete work,” Rogers wrote in a follow-up email to TCB.

They will still have to do things to “make the project work for the tenants” while staying true to the historic elements. That’s where the final approval comes in, Rogers stated.

However, “everything’s moving in the right direction,” Rogers said during the interview, adding, “As long as we just keep focusing on doing things the right way, we should be fine.”

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