Downtown investment boom tracks with mayor’s tenure

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by Jordan Green

Significant investment in downtown Winston-Salem is expected to continue this year, with a number of high-profile projects on the horizon.

Downtown Winston-Salem has experienced $1.2 billion in investment over the past 15 years, and with the opening of Mast General Store on Trade Street and retrofitting of the Reynolds Building as a high-end hotel looming on the horizon, the growth shows no signs of abating.

“Since 2000 we’ve gone from being a downtown where everything closes at 5 p.m. to a downtown with $1.2 billion in investment — which is huge,” Kirk Ericson, a city-county planner, told Triad City Beat. “It’s indicative of the commitment of many people in this city to move things forward.”

Ericson presented the report during the Downtown Winston-Salem Partnership’s annual meeting at the Embassy Suites Hotel on Tuesday morning. Jason Thiel has led the partnership since 2005.

Wake Forest Innovation Quarter, a biotech research and development park on the eastern flank of downtown repurposed from RJ Reynolds’ former tobacco works is the major driver of the renaissance, with health and technology projects accounting for $445.5 million — more than a third — of the overall development. BioTech Place, the setting for a 2012 visit by Vice President Joe Biden, and [email protected] — both developed by Wexford Science & Technology — are two major investments in the innovation quarter, along with technology company Inmar, which relocated its headquarters to the campus from another location in Winston-Salem last February.

The growth of the tech sector in the innovation quarter, in turn, has spurred residential development. Plant 64, built by RJ Reynolds Tobacco Co. around 1920, is being redeveloped into apartments. Developer Chris Harrison said the project is 60 percent complete.

“With Wake Forest Innovation Quarter you have so many high-tech positions with people coming from all over the world to fill them,” Ericson said. “They’re used to being in an urban environment. That’s what Wexford has been giving them. It also serves the empty nesters, those who might want to downsize from a three-bedroom house. It’s kind of a synergy of people that appreciate urban living.”

Ericson said the industrial legacy of Winston-Salem, with Reynolds leaving its early 20th Century tobacco works, poised downtown for resurgence.

“We’ve been fortunate that we’ve got this great building stock,” he said. “With the historic tax credits that we had, that was a huge factor in a lot of those [projects] happening.”

Residential investment totaled $140.1 million, with the Nissen Building, Winston Factory Lofts and One Park Vista preceding Plant 64.

After health and technology, infrastructure accounts for the largest share of development at $188.4 million, including the new Research Parkway, Salem Creek Connector and improvements to West Fourth Street. Institutional and public-sector projects are not far behind, at $181.6 million, which include the Forsyth County Government Center and the Center for Design Innovation.

Multi-use projects, including Mast General Store with an anticipated grand opening in May, account for $95.2 million, while $88.4 million has either been spent or is being committed to office projects. Notable examples include One West Fourth, built in 2000, renovations to Winston Tower, and active construction of the 751 West Fourth building.

Construction of the BB&T Ballpark, the relocation of Ziggy’s from Baity Street to Ninth Street and A/perture Cinema top the list of arts/entertainment-sector investments, which total $50.3 million, while the District Rooftop Bar & Grille, Bib’s Barbecue and the Fourth Street Restaurant Row program lead commercial investment — a total of $42.2 million.

Joines & Mast credit Jordan Green
Mayor Allen Joines (second from left) with Mast General Stores executives

Mayor Allen Joines said he was gratified that about 80 percent of the investment has come from the private sector.

Asked what he thinks accounts for the robust growth in downtown since 2000, Joines joked, “That was the year I got elected mayor.”

Getting serious, he said, “I think we’ve learned that development follows its own timeframe. You can push for it. It’s like pushing a snowball up a mountain, and you get it over, and then it gets its own momentum and takes off on its own. It’s kind of hard to keep up at this point. Now, people ask me about projects, and I say, ‘Hold on, let me look that up.’”

The Downtown Winston-Salem Partnership recognized Plant 64, [email protected], Inmar and 751 West Fourth with special awards for significant downtown developments in the past year, along with the Texas Pete Culinary Arts Festival, Black Mountain Chocolate and the Glade at West End. The awards were presented at the partnership’s annual meeting on Tuesday morning at the Embassy Suites Hotel.

Partnership President Jason Thiel also mentioned the new location of Greensboro-based Design Archives, the opening of the Hilltop House apartments and the ongoing repurposing the old Forsyth County Courthouse for apartments as significant developments in the past year.

DWSP President Jason Thiel
DWSP President Jason Thiel

Joines said he sees no signs of the progress slowing in the coming year, citing the retrofitting of the Reynolds Building.

“We’ve been talking about a couple big projects that I can’t talk too much about right now that are going to make this a banner year for downtown,” Joines said. “We’ve got some bond money for the development of Merschel Plaza and fixing up the Pepper Building.

“2014 was an extraordinary year in downtown,” he added. “2015 is going to be equally strong.”

  • Z

    Mayor Joines is a great leader.