Today I want to tell you a special story.
It is story of Townies, just like you and me, who rose up to create a new standard for the look and future of our town. It is a story nearly nine years in the making filled with roadways, relationships, world-renowned designers and local pioneers. It is a story you may have already heard; But for those of you who haven’t, it’s time to tune in.
This is a story set to make national news, but first, we need to help.
So here’s the deal.
Did you know that this year the North Carolina Department of Transportation is slated to start rebuilding a one-mile stretch of Business 40 in downtown Winston-Salem? Well in case you missed that, heads up, it’s happening. The project will close down a portion of the roadway for two-years. This paving project also includes the replacement of 11 aging bridges and is one of the most substantial infrastructure projects to come to Winston-Salem in decades.
But there is more to this story than just the closing of a major corridor (which includes an investment of $200 million just so you know). After dedicating nearly nine years worth of time, patience and talents, the Creative Corridors Coalition will finally witness what they are calling “a once in a generation infrastructure project” come to life.
In November I had my first sit down and ride-along with two of the players, Creative Corridors Coalition chairman, Lee French and project manager and founder of Roots First, Kristen Haaf. We talked about the beginning, when there was just a handful of folks who saw an opportunity to transform a routine paving project into something special. They believed that this was the opportunity to transform those aging bridges into works of art that could reconnect our disconnected downtown neighborhoods, create bike paths, elevate strollways and create iconic gateways that would set Winston-Salem apart. “We saw an opportunity and did not want to settle for standard improvements,” Lee explained. “We knew we could do better and it was now or never. This was our shot; another project like this will not happen for another sixty years.”
They explained how that small group of engaged citizens eventually formed the Creative Corridors Coalition (CCC) and today it is a volunteer-run non-profit organization that “provides a voice and a process for residents of Winston-Salem and Forsyth County to influence the design of roadway infrastructure projects in and around Downtown Winston-Salem.”
Since 2007 Creative Corridors Coalition volunteers have initiated and participated in hundreds of community meetings, organized dozens of community events, and worked tirelessly alongside city and state officials to ensure the new bridges capture the city’s devotion to arts, culture, and innovation.
Lee shares that they have used their limited funding to “invest in talent first”, and with support, developed a master visionary plan that includes creating pedestrian bridges and vehicular overpasses that double as public art and address accessibility and connectivity issues with neighborhoods adjacent to downtown.
Kristen, a designer and urban planner by trade, was recently brought onto the project to help with the final push and to help the group communicate in “DOT-speak”(they joke). Kristen tells me that it is important to note that although it is just the two of them meeting with me at Krankies that morning that there is a phenomenal team of passionate, dedicated citizens who are collectively helping bring this project to life.
She goes on to say that she moved to Winston-Salem from Philadelphia a few years ago and that she has “never seen a community rally behind a project like this before. It’s incredible and if this project happens it will make national news. It’s that significant.”
“When.” adds Lee. We look back at him. “When it happens. It’s going to happen.” he says with assuredness, passion and a smile.
He adds how grateful he is to the City of Winston-Salem and the NC DOT for giving them an unprecedented seat at the table to see this vision through. It wasn’t easy and there were plenty of starts and stops but a tested partnership between city officials and citizens was formed.
“We could not have gotten this far without the relationships we have built. It has been crucial. No one has done this before and we were all in it together.”
He and Kristen run through numbers with me:
- More than $1.2 billion – the amount of capital invested in revitalizing Winston-Salem since 2000, including 88 projects with more to come
- $200 million – the amount NC DOT and the City of Winston-Salem will invest in roadway infrastructure improvement projects here between 2010 – 2020
- $10 million – the amount the Creative Corridors Coalition and the City of Winston-Salem have worked to secure in public funding for aesthetic elements, iconic features and “above standard” improvements (if CCC can raise the balance)
- $5 million – the amount the CCC has to raise in private funding to deliver world class designs for four major gateway bridges to define our city as one of accomplishment, excellence and promise.
The Creative Corridors Coalition and their supporters believe this “legacy project” will be an economic, aesthetic and social capital G.A.I.N for the city. G.A.I.N. stands for Green, Artful, Iconic, Network. As Lee says, “this is our chance to become a proper 21st century city.”
And when it came to creating the design for these iconic bridges they went big, tapping three world-renowned designers. Those designers include Donald McDonald, best known for designing the Cooper River Bridge in Charleston, SC, The San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, and the retrofit of the Golden Gate Bridge; Larry Kirkland, whose portfolio includes noted public art projects at the American Red Cross Headquarters and New York’s Penn Station; and Walter Hood, North Carolina native whose projects span from Oakland to the Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta. Locally-based landscape architecture firm, Stimmel and Associates rounds out the project.
Two of the most noteworthy designs are the Twin Arches Bridge and the Strollway Pedestrian Bridge.
The Twin Arches Bridge design pulls from the arches of the Moravian community which settled in the area over 250 years ago. The bridge design also pays homage to the shape of the gorgeous Oak trees that fill our city and was created to be an iconic gateway into Winston-Salem.
Similar to the High Line in Manhattan, the Strollway Pedestrian Bridge will include 12-foot wide walkways to allow both pedestrian and bicycle traffic and will relink historic Old Salem with Downtown Winston. It is believed to be the first urban land bridge in the United States.
The plan also includes Research Parkway betterments, MLK Jr Drive betterments, the Green Street Pedestrian Bridge and the Peters Creek Parkway Bridge.
Last week I was invited to a small gathering at the home of Sarah Smith, another volunteer. She has been volunteering for CCC for five years lending her expertise in marketing and communications. Lee and Kristen were also there, along with about ten of Sarah’s friends. They walked us through the project, shared updates and filled us in on their newly launched crowdfunding campaign. Lee shared that it was in living rooms like this and at churches and civic centers and basically anywhere that would have him that he has stood to talk to fellow community members to pitch the idea and ask for their support.
“Because I believe it’s so important for this project to belong to the community and for the greater community to play a role in making this happen.” They talk again about needing the grassroots support be it through a donation, your time or active promotion on social media. “It all matters,” he says and continued to interject that this is something we can collectively be a part of, that we can be the generation that created these iconic bridges.”
Clearly his passion and their story has had an effect on me and the business community has also taken note. They too believe that this in an opportunity to shape our city in a way that will help attract top talent, new businesses and future entrepreneurs. Recognizing the potential, these organizations have contributed about half of the necessary $5 million dollars needed to date.
And now it is up to us. The Townies. Currently the iconic bridge projects are in the DOT pipeline and the corridor projects are underway with the city. To complete funding, the CCC launched their final phase, the community campaign, on January 14th with a crowdfunding effort to raise at least $50,000 from fellow residents.
I’m gonna give it to you straight. I do believe that we have the chance to make history, Winston-Salem. I hope you join me to help support the CCC and the City of Winston Salem’s hard work and make a donation in any amount that feels good for you.