An investment in Winston-Salem’s vitality

by Brian Clarey

A plan by the city of Winston-Salem to spend money on shopping center upgrades has prompted murmurs of disapproval among the local commentariat.

The money comes out of an economic development fund created from taxpayer funds that were paid out to Dell as an incentive to create job with an assembly plant built here in the mid part of the last decade. When Dell announced it was closing the facility, the city clawed the money back.

Those profligate Winston-Salem council members, the critics moan, they get their hands on some extra cash and it seems to burn a hole in their pockets. One critic noted the shabby appearance of the five shopping centers and questioned the city’s investment sense, describing the surrounding areas as “in decline.”

That’s wrong on a number of levels. The largest investment — $800,000 in city funds leveraged to $3 million through private dollars — is King Plaza, a sprawling Latin American commercial hub on Waughtown Street that is home to Que Pasa Media Network’s Triad office.

What most of the five shopping centers approved to receive a total of $1.9 million in city grants share is that a significant portion of their businesses and clientele is Latino, and their parking lots resemble a cratered lunar landscape. Not incidentally, the number of Latinos has doubled in Winston-Salem over the past decade.

That might be a cause for anxiety for some. And though none of the critics of using the Dell funds to spruce up shopping centers have mentioned race, some may object to city funds being used to help illegal immigrants — as if skin color and language were any indication of legal residency status. Neither factor should be an issue.

A visit to King Plaza provides direct visual evidence of cultural and commercial succession transforming the urban landscape: the 5 Star International Market still bears the signage of former occupant IGA grocery. Other tenants include Dollar General and Family Dollar, a tax preparer and a botanica (a retail store selling herbal medicines, religious candles and statuary), and a Latino restaurant. A salon advertises services for “African-American, Dominican and any ethnic hair types.” Who knew there were even Dominicans living in Winston- Salem?

Far from being in decline, these places are burgeoning. The clientele at places such as King Plaza are people who are working and spending money. The businesses are employing people. The property owners are paying taxes to help foot the bill for police officers, schools and parks. That should be applauded and enhanced.

This program represents a stellar economic development investment. Compared to the original recipient — a global corporation that took much of its profit out of Winston-Salem — in this case, 100 percent of these funds are going people who live and work here.

The investment in parking-lot repaving, lighting and landscaping will help maintain affordable and accessible commercial centers where people buy groceries, eat out and wash their clothes. It will discourage crime, and shore up the value of nearby residential properties.

Isn’t that what good government is all about?

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