Downtown Winston-Salem: A new courthouse that will be “daylit at both ends,” a challenge to “attack intergenerational poverty, and a request for more downtown cops.
Winston-Salem auto dealer and developer Don Flow issued a challenge to business and government leaders to imagine a city where “arts and innovation” meets “hope and opportunity” during Downtown Winston-Salem Partnership’s annual fall meeting on Thursday.
Flow shared news about progress on the 500 West 5th project, an 18-story building redeveloped from the old GMAC building. Along with partnership President Jason Thiel, Flow extolled a vision of a vibrant city in the midst of a 20-year growth spurt that echoes the robust growth and wealth creation fueled by the tobacco industry beginning in the 1890s. With $2 billion invested in downtown over the past 20 years, Thiel noted that one project on the horizon — construction of a new courthouse through more than $100 million in public funds — will account for 5 percent of that investment.
Flow touted the renovated 500 West 5th building as “an entrepreneurial center that’s a physical expression of innovation,” describing a first floor with an airy lobby and fitness center, apartments and retail managed by Rudd Properties on the second floor, a Wake Forest University-supported center to support private business on the third floor, the Flywheel co-working space on the eighth floor, Teall Capital offices on the 12th floor, and his own business holdings on the 14th and 18th floors.
Flow also said he will soon make an “announcement about a company that will take several other floors.” When the unnamed tenant moves in, a total of 850 people will be working in the building, he said.
Part of his goal is to retain young talent, Flow said.
“We were Silicon Valley for manufacturing,” Flow said of Winston-Salem’s heyday in the first four decades of the tobacco industry. “We were the place where people came and took risks. We were the place that created jobs and the place that created wealth all over the South. We were the first city that people migrated to.”
But Flow warned his fellow business leaders that the city can’t have robust growth if it leaves part of the population behind.
“Imagine the city of arts and innovation meets the city of hope and opportunity,” he said.
“Why is that important? Because for us to become the city we want to be, we have to attack intergenerational poverty in this city,” he continued, prompting a wave of applause.
Flow said the fact that only half of third graders in Forsyth County are reading at grade level in third grade is unacceptable, and he set a goal that 80 percent of third graders in every school will be reading at grade level.
“Every single child in this city deserves a chance in third grade to be on a level playing field and to have a chance to win and compete in the world, and reach their God-given potential,” he said. “And the people in this room are the folks that come together and say, ‘Do we have the resolve to make that happen?’”
Flow also set a goal that 65 percent of all high school graduates from the county will attain either a two-year or four-year degree, while applauding a recent announcement by BB&T.
“Because of BB&T’s gift to Forsyth Tech, we now have the ability for 2,550 rising seniors to go to Forsyth Tech for free. That’s 2,550 kids that’ll get middle-class jobs the day they walk out at 20 years old. And I’ll hire a bunch of ’em.”
Declaring that he wants to make Winston-Salem the “strongest, best middle-sized city in the country,” Thiel noted a number of projects underway in downtown, including the Link Apartments (“the largest project in downtown’s history in housing units near the Wake Forest Innovation Quarter”), Merschel Plaza and the new facility for the children’s museum known as the Kaleidium.
With a growing base of employees, residents and visitors in downtown, the Downtown Winston-Salem Partnership is seeking additional public investment in police officers.
“We’re trying to make a case for more bike patrol officers,” Thiel said. “We’ll be talking about that in January, when we start talking about the [city] budget.”
One project represents both a significant investment and a transformation of the urban landscape. Thiel indicated he won’t mourn the passing of the current courthouse, a brutalist block of concrete and steel built in the early 1970s.
“I don’t think our architects in America hit the mark in the 1970s,” Thiel said. “I think we lost our way in designing buildings.”
Tom Calloway, a principal at Winston-Salem-based CJMW Architecture, set a lofty goal for the new courthouse, which will occupy space adjacent to the Forsyth County Government Center on Chestnut Street.
“It will be the finest new courthouse in North Carolina and one of the finest in the country,” Calloway said. “Believe that. This is the most expensive building that’s ever been built by Forsyth County.”
The new courthouse will accommodate 18 courtrooms, compared to 14 in the current facility.
Douglas Kleppin, a managing director at CBRE Heery, said the new courthouse will be “daylit at both ends” and “easy to navigate in terms of wayfinding” with “open spaces connected by stairs and escalators.”
He said, “It’s just a beautiful kind of procession into the court, I think that takes you to these entrances.”
Adhering to modern standards, the new courthouse will feature a secure circulation system for inmates and prisoners separate from the public so “they really never see each other or come together except within the crucible of the courtroom well itself.”
Without elaborating except to mention the presence of natural light, Kleppin said the designers wanted to honor the volunteer service of jurors by “giving them a respectful place that gives them a variety of ways they can wait their turn to participate.”
Closing the program, Calloway made a nod to Don Flow’s vision of a city energized by entrepreneurial dynamism and economic inclusion.
“We’d like to think the design of this courthouse is in the spirit of Mr. Flow’s vision,” he said. “This is gonna be a major addition to downtown.”