Winston-Salem and Greensboro on the rise

by Jordan Green

photos by Caleb Smallwood

The downtowns of Winston-Salem and Greensboro experienced brisk growth in the first half of the decade, with the aggregate value of real estate in both downtown Winston-Salem and downtown Greensboro topping $1 billion in 2015. Greensboro, a city with a larger population but a smaller, more diffuse downtown, gained on its more dynamic neighbor to the west, increasing aggregate value from $807.8 million to $1.0 billion in the past five years.

Building on investments in Restaurant Row on West Fourth Street, the Milton Rhodes Arts Center and the BB&T Ballpark in the past 15 years, the most dramatic transformation in downtown Winston-Salem is the Wake Forest Innovation Quarter, an urban research park rising from the historic RJ Reynolds tobacco works, which in turn is catalyzing a housing boom.

Total valuation of downtown Winston-Salem

2010 total valuation: $992.5 million

2010 valuation per acre: $2.7 million

2015 total valuation: $1.1 billion

2015 valuation per acre: $3.0 million

Change in valuation (10-15): 0.8%

“Very few downtowns have the luxury of having an urban research park in the city grid,” said Jason Thiel, who has led the Downtown Winston-Salem Partnership since 2006. “There are a number of large floor plans in manufacturing buildings that are very viable for reuse for many different reuses: housing, laboratories, entertainment — some for government buildings. The fact that we had a stock of buildings available, with a combination of state and federal [historic] tax credits, along with a large institution in need of growth — Wake Forest University Medical Center, a medical school and major research institution — created viable tenants with the ability to pay rent and buildings that could house them. This wasn’t done overnight. It required a tremendous amount of infrastructure work.”

Built in the shell of RJ Reynolds Tobacco’s Building 91 by Baltimore-based Wexford Science & Technology, the new BioTech Place became one of Winston-Salem’s most valuable properties when it opened in 2012, and provided a setting for a visit by Vice President Joe Biden later that year. Another renovation project by Wexford, 525 @ Vine, followed suit in 2014, housing Baptist Hospital’s division of public health sciences and department of physician assistant studies, along with the Flywheel co-working space.

While Greensboro lacks a catalytic project of the same scope as the innovation quarter, a budding interest in urbanism, nourished by a bloom of open-air markets, brewpubs and fine dining, has instigated activity and investment.

Much of the growth to date has occurred on the southern and northern fringes: The Railyard, previously a homeless encampment, has become a focal point, hosting the monthly City Market and serving as a hub for the Spice Cantina, the Worx restaurant, Gibb’s Hundred Brewing, the Forge makerspace and soon HQ Greensboro. But the growth along the north end of downtown jumpstarted by the nascent Downtown Greenway represents the biggest investment to date: The Greenway @ Fisher Park Apartments and the Greenway @ Stadium Park Apartments, built by brothers James N. Jones and Stephen C. Jones, have added a combined $23.1 million to the Guilford County tax roll. The greenway also presaged Deep Roots Market’s relocation to the downtown in 2013. Across the street, Preyer Brewing Co. recently opened in a renovated building, and will soon be joined by Crafted: The Art of Street Food.

Total valuation of downtown Greensboro

2010 total valuation: $807.8 million

2010 valuation per acre: $1.9 million

2015 total valuation: $1.0 billion

2015 valuation per acre: $2.4 million

Change in valuation (10-15): 27.8%

“It’s definitely a hotspot for where people want to be both doing business and living,” said Hanna Cockburn, the manager for long-range and strategic planning for the city of Greensboro. “I think there are a lot of factors that influence where people want to live. There’s something of a pendulum effect that swings back and forth. At the end of the day people want to live in interesting places with interesting things to do, and downtowns provide that.”

Gary Brame, who owns Jules Antiques and Fine Art and who serves as chair of Downtown Greensboro Inc., noted that during the 2012 tax revaluation, property values across Guilford County rose only about 1 percent while values in downtown soared 18 percent.

Strictly by the numbers, downtown Greensboro’s 26.9 percent rise in property values looks more impressive than downtown Winston-Salem’s 0.8 percent increase. The timing and frequency of the tax reappraisals in the counties that host the two cities probably accounts for much of the discrepancy.  Guilford County, where Greensboro is located, is on an eight-year schedule, with recent revaluations in 2004 and 2012. Downtown Greensboro experienced significant growth from 2004 to the onset of the recession in 2009, including completion of NewBridge Bank Ballpark and Center Pointe, construction of CityView Apartments and renovation of the Kress Building. All that was captured in the 2012 revaluation.

In comparison, Forsyth County, which is on the four-year schedule, started its most recent cycle in 2009, while the market was at a peak just before the start of the recession. The 2013 revaluation reflected the damage of the foreclosure crisis. Alan Myrick, Guilford County’s assistant assessor for real estate, said tracking the growth of downtown real estate values in the two cities over about 12 years would likely reveal similar patterns and trends.

Tale of two cities

The seeds for Winston-Salem’s renaissance were planted in the late 1990s, prior to Jason Thiel’s arrival in the city. The conversion of West Fourth Street from one-way to two-way, streetscape improvements and sidewalk widening set the stage for the street to become a regional fine-dining destination. Meanwhile, the city created a Restaurant Row revolving loan pool to help restaurateurs get started. The Meade Willis Revolving Loan Program, administered by the Downtown Winston-Salem Partnership, later augmented the city’s loan program — both providing gap financing that is subordinate to the entrepreneurs’ debt to their primary lenders.

WS_2015_ownership

2015 ownership of downtown Winston-Salem

Winston-Salem owners: 58.2%

Owners from rest of NC: 12.7%

Out-of-state owners: 29.8%

Thiel credited the Millennium Fund, created around 2000 by corporate leaders with about $40 million for investment in downtown redevelopment, as an early win for downtown. One of the first projects supported by the fund was the renovation of the Nissen Building, an 18-story skyscraper with luxury apartments.

Thiel recognized an array of dynamic organizations — including the Winston-Salem Chamber of Commerce, the Arts Council of Winston-Salem & Forsyth County, the Goler Community Development Corp., Old Salem and the Downtown Residents Association — with moving downtown forward in a cooperative spirit. Mayor Allen Joines, who has led the city since 2001, has acted as a constant cheerleader for revitalization.

GSO_2015_ownership

2015 ownership of downtown Greensboro:

Greensboro owners: 82.1%

Owners from rest of NC: 9.9%

Out-of-state owners: 8.0%

In contrast, Greensboro has had five mayors over the same period, with corresponding fractiousness and struggles to define their mission among an array of nonprofits tasked with reactivating downtown.

From the inception, the Downtown Winston-Salem Partnership has taken a strategic approach.

“Many cities tried to create walkable areas all over,” Thiel said. “Way back in 2006 we decided to create three to five blocks that were highly walkable, and then it would naturally expand.”

Thiel said the city’s adoption of an overlay district with new design standards played a critical role in promoting downtown’s growth. The ordinance requires downtown property owners to build to the street, provide transparency in at least half of their ground floors and place doors every 100 feet to encourage pedestrian use.

A 2010 effort led by Downtown Greensboro Inc. to create design standards stalled out due to resistance from local property owners, chief among them developer Roy Carroll.

Gary Brame, the chair of Downtown Greensboro Inc. credited former mayor Jim Melvin with bringing a new ballpark to downtown Greensboro in 2005; Winston-Salem followed suit with a ballpark of its own to the west of its downtown. Brame also commended Action Greensboro for building Center City Park, which opened in 2006. Both of those projects attracted new visitors to downtown.

Downtown Greensboro has tried a number of approaches to instigate growth, including marketing local businesses and providing grants for façade improvements. While Brame said the programs made a difference, the organization has opted to discontinue them. Downtown Greensboro also recently handed off its Clean and Green program to the city. Currently, the organization is heading up a volunteer effort to plant flowers around downtown in advance of that National Folk Festival in September, and searching for a new CEO while coming under fire from some city council members for alleged ineffectiveness.

Both cities have major new investments underway or on the horizon, with no signs that the growth is slowing. In Winston-Salem, Clachan Properties, the Richmond, Va. company responsible for the Winston Factory Lofts, is renovating the old Forsyth Courthouse for new apartments. A partnership between PMC Property Group of Philadelphia and Kimpton Hotel & Restaurants of San Francisco is renovating the historic Reynolds building as a high-end hotel with restaurants and retail on the first floor and apartments on the upper floors. And last week, the city announced that a consortium of local and out-of-state investors will build a $96 million mixed-use development next to BB&T Ballpark with 300,000 square feet of retail, 110,000 square feet of office space, 250 hotel rooms and 580 residential units.

In Greensboro, the construction of the Steven Tanger Center for the Performing Arts alongside the forthcoming LeBauer Park promises to expand the civic space around Center City Park, the Central Library and the Greensboro Cultural Center. Occupying a space between Newbridge Bank Park and the city center, Roy Carroll’s Bellemeade Village will contain upscale apartments and a hotel. And south of Gate City Boulevard, the city recently broke ground on the Union Square campus, which will house a nursing program jointly operated by UNCG, NC A&T University and GTCC.

“Contrary to what many people believe, it’s not just the big investments that drive downtown growth,” said Thiel with the Downtown Winston-Salem Partnership. “All investment is the sum of many small investments with big ones wrapped up in between. It is a long-term effort. If you keep working, you start to see improvement and people buy into it. Some people use the term ‘critical mass’ — possibly an overused term. You start with restaurants; people didn’t believe we could do it. Then housing; we faced skeptics. Then the innovation quarter — people were even skeptical of that.

“What I enjoy most about being downtown, it is the people who own businesses and the employees,” Thiel continued. “If they are excited and feel a vibe, that’s the best marketing you can have. If you must know, it’s from the ground up. The big investments are made off small investments.”

Methodology: Using current and 2010 historic property values provided by the Forsyth and Guilford county tax assessors, Triad City Beat aggregated overall values of Winston-Salem and Greensboro’s downtowns, tracking growth from 2010 to 2015 and identifying the largest players. The author used corporate records on file with the NC Secretary of State to determine the underlying ownership of companies on the local tax rolls. The Winston-Salem study reviewed 944 properties covering 358 acres of an area roughly bounded by Highway 52 to the east, Business 40 to the south, Broad Street to the west and West Sixth Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Drive to the north. The Greensboro study reviewed 1,174 properties covering 390 acres in an area roughly bounded by Murrow Boulevard to the east, Gate City Boulevard to the south, the future Downtown Greenway to the west and the Fisher Avenue to the north. While the two study areas necessarily exclude some outlying properties with high levels of activity and investment that could easily be considered part of downtown, the boundaries were drawn to achieve comparable sizes and compactness.

Nia Hill contributed research for this story as part of Triad City Beat’s investigative reporting program.

Note: Information in this story has been amended and updated since its publication on May 13, 2015 to correct for an omission of a number of properties from the original survey and to reflect Roy Carroll’s purchase of the CityView properties.

Who owns downtown Winston-Salem:

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Top 50 downtown Winston-Salem property owners (total holdings)

Downtown Winston-Salem map

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1. Forsyth County, government, Winston-Salem — $150,568,100*

2. Wexford Science & Technology, real estate investment, Hanover, Md. — $124,712,900

3. NG One West Fourth Street LLC, New York — $61,320,800

4. SL Winston-Salem LLC, office building, New York — $56,182,800

5. City of Winston-Salem, government, Winston-Salem — $53,504,600*

6. Noble Investment Group, hospitality real estate, Atlanta — $33,724,300

7. 200 West Land Dst, Hinsdale, Ill. — $33,095,100

8. Slate Winston Holdings LLC, real estate investment, Newport Beach, Calif. — $31,551,200

9. RJ Reynolds Inc., tobacco, Winston-Salem — $31,207,500

10. Clachan Properties, rental, Richmond, Va. — $31,038,000

11. Park Building Partners LLC, rental real estate, Winston-Salem — $26,561,500

12. WFU Health Sciences, nonprofit, Winston-Salem — $24,592,900

13. United States of America, government, Washington, DC — $18,028,600*

14. National Financial Realty, real estate investment, Redondo Beach, Calif. — $16,429,900

15. WFIQ Holdings LLC, real estate holdings, Winston-Salem — $16,118,900

16. Douglas L. Edgeton, Terry L. Hales Jr. and William B. Applegate, real estate holdings, Winston-Salem — $14,474,200

17. Historic Restoration, historic redevelopment, New Orleans — $14,365,300

18. Winston Tower Properties LLC, real estate development, Winston-Salem — $11,500,000

19. Centenary United Methodist Church, church, Winston-Salem — $11,379,400*

20. CCC Gallery Lofts LLC, residential, Raleigh — $10,522,700

21. Liberty Plaza LLC, real estate, Winston-Salem — $9,397,100

22. First Presbyterian Church, church, Winston-Salem — $8,822,900 *

23. Winston-Salem/Forsyth County School Board, government, Winston-Salem — $8,701,600*

24. Summit Hospitality Group Ltd., hotel, Raleigh — $7,453,100

25. W. David Shannon, real estate development, Winston-Salem — $7,251,700 (also owns a stake in the Winston Tower)

26. BB&T, banking, Winston-Salem — $6,911,700

27. Goler Place Inc., nonprofit, Winston-Salem — $6,586,700

28. Lisbeth Evans, property lessor, Winston-Salem — $6,262,100

29. NC Baptist Hospitals Inc., nonprofit, Winston-Salem — $6,052,000

30. First Baptist Church of Winston-Salem, church, Winston-Salem — $5,863,800

31. Motor Bird Properties LLC (IMG College), sports marketing, Winston-Salem — $6,539,900

32. UNCSA Board of Trustees, educational, Raleigh — $5,359,600*

33. PMC Property Group and Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants, real estate, Philadelphia — $5,309,200

34. Vintage Oaks II, unknown, Sausalito, Calif. — $4,625,213

35. Facilities for the Arts on Spruce Foundation, nonprofit, Winston-Salem — $4,284,800*

36. World Media Enterprises Inc., publishing, Omaha, Neb. — $4,166,700

37. Justin Barton, unknown, Sausalito, Calif. — $4,137,700

38. Southern Bell Telephone & Telegraph, telecom, Atlanta — $3,892,300*

39. Housing Authority of Winston-Salem, nonprofit, Winston-Salem — $3,873,000*

40. Forsyth Economic Ventures, real estate, Winston-Salem — $3,716,200

41. Trade Street Investors LLC, commercial real estate, Winston-Salem — $3,475,300

42. Wake Forest Innovation Quarter companies, office/mixed use, Winston-Salem — $3,457,100

43. ACF Enterprises Inc., real estate investment, Kernersville — $3,336,600

44. LPRI Winston Salem Ownership Group LLC, real estate investment, Boston — $3,173,200

45. Cong of U B Ucalva, church, Winston-Salem — $3,110,000 *

46. Michael Coe, commercial real estate, Winston-Salem — $2,329,800

47. Hank Perkins, real estate investment, Winston-Salem — $1,546,700

48. BAML LLC, rental, Winston-Salem — $1,513,500

49. Aviara Properties, real estate, Winston-Salem — $1,406,200

50. Black Horse LLC, real property lessors, Winston-Salem — $1,338,800

*Tax exempt

Who owns downtown Greensboro:

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Top 50 downtown Greensboro property owners (total holdings)

Downtown Greensboro

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1. Guilford County, government, Greensboro — $124,393,300*

2. City of Greensboro, government, Greensboro — $114,476,600*

3. Jefferson-Pilot Life Insurance Co., insurance — $74,924,400

4. Roy Carroll, developer, Greensboro — $65,027,500

5. CW Greensboro Properties LLC, real estate, Newton, Mass. — $41,175,300

6. Irving Partners LP, real estate, Greensboro — $39,498,600

7. James N. Jones Jr. & Stephen C. Jones, apartments, Black Mountain, NC/Park City, Utah — $23,072,400

8. Southern Bell Telephone & Telegraph Co., telecom, Atlanta — $21,998,900*

9. Guilford County Board of Education, government, Greensboro — $20,348,500*

10. Columbia Properties Greensboro Ltd., real estate holdings, Fort Mitchell, Ky. — $19,334,500

11. VF Corp., apparel, Greensboro — $18,415,300

12. Young Men’s Christian Association of Greensboro, nonprofit, Greensboro — $15,741,100*

13. Greensboro Housing Authority, nonprofit, Greensboro — $13,813,800*

14. Greensboro Baseball LLC, sports, Greensboro — $13,242,200

15. West Market Street United Methodist Church, church, Greensboro — $11,642,600*

16. Elon University, educational, Elon — $11,098,300*

17. 301 North Elm Street LLC, office building, Wilmington, Del. — $10,600,000

18. Brown family, commercial real estate, Greensboro — $10,060,500

19. United States of America, government, Washington, DC — $9,928,100*

20. BH Media Group, publishing, Omaha, Neb. — $8,877,100

21. Johnston Properties LLC, commercial rental property, Greensboro — $8,330,400

22. John L. Lomax & Bruce B. Cantrell, rental-commercial real estate, Greensboro — $6,993,400

23. James L. Swisher & Barbara S. Swisher, Greensboro — $6,709,400

24. Greensboro Children’s Museum Inc., nonprofit, Greensboro — $6,067,100*

25. SPI Fedlaw Greensboro LLC, real estate, Charlotte — $5,722,433

26. Etzi Fedlaw Greensboro LLC, office building rental, Santa Barbara, Calif. — $5,722,433

27. Fedlaw Greensboro LLC, real estate investment, Santa Barbara, Calif. — $5,722,433

28. Elm Street Center LLC, rental real estate, Greensboro — $5,460,000

29. Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, church, Greensboro — $5,437,000

30. Debby Reynolds, real estate holdings, Greensboro — $4,902,900

31. Carolina Theatre Building LLC, nonprofit holding company, Greensboro — $4,738,900*

32. 101 South Elm LLC, real estate, Greensboro — $4,582,900

33. State Employees Credit Union, banking, Raleigh — $4,417,200

34. Gate City Motor Co. Inc., retail sales, Greensboro — $4,295,700

35. Hallimar Properties Inc., telecom rental space, Greensboro — $4,258,000

36. Grace United Methodist Church of Greensboro — $4,159,000*

37. Weaver Investment Co., real estate rental, Greensboro — $4,065,750

38. Stern Greensborough Court LLC, real estate investment, Greensboro — $4,065,750

39. Dixie Building LLC, real estate investment, Greensboro — $3,917,500

40. Credit Bureau of Greater Greensboro, nonprofit, Greensboro — $3,887,900

41. Museum Landlord LLC, rental, Greensboro — $3,873,000

42. Gaines Corp., rental & investment properties, Greensboro — $3,652,900

43. Southern Railway Co., railroad, Atlanta — $3,540,600*

44. Dawn S. Chaney, developer, Greensboro — $3,352,800

45. Self-Help Ventures Fund, nonprofit, Durham — $3,346,400

46. Friendly Church Investments LLC, real estate investment, Greensboro — $3,221,100

47. Buffalo Investment Co., farming/rentals, Clinton — $3,200,800

48. LaRose family, real estate investment, Greensboro — $3,030,700

49. Six Hundred Twenty Corp., Greensboro — $2,964,500

50. 324 South Elm LLC, real estate development, Greensboro — $2,830,700

*Tax exempt

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