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Art feature for Salem Creek Parkway higher than expected

by Jordan Green

 jordan@yesweekly.com

The future Salem Creek Connector, conceived as a “southern gateway” to downtown Winston-Salem, has moved one step closer to actualization with the NC Department of Transportation’s selection of a contractor to build the road, but the viability of a major feature, the Twin Arches, is in question.

Charlotte-based Blythe Construction submitted the low bid of $68.9 million, an amount that falls almost $10 million below an earlier engineering estimate by the department. The Creative Corridors Coalition, a local partnership, is responsible for raising funds to pay for the signature enhancement of the project — double, overlapping arches that are conceived as soaring over the interchange of Salem Creek Connector and US Highway 52. The arches were designed by Donald McDonald, who also designed the Cooper River Bridge in Charleston, SC. For a sense of the visual impact of the installation, think of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis or the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, only on a more modest scale.

The department asked vendors to submit a separate cost estimate for the Twin Arches as a bid alternative. Blythe Construction estimated the cost of the Twin Arches at $3.5 million, said Pat Ivey, who heads the department’s Division 9 office in Winston-Salem.

“The cost has come in higher, and we’re figuring out the next step,” said Russell DuBois, executive director of Creative Corridors Coalition.

Randall Tuttle, a financier who chairs the executive committee of Creative Corridors Coalition, described the Twin Arches as a “focal point” of the project in a guest editorial for the Winston-Salem Journal in October.

“We are confident that the combined costs of the betterments and the Twin Arches will be just a few percent of the overall project cost,” he wrote. “For pennies on the dollar, our city can create an iconic parkway and spectacular monument representing our city of the arts and innovation.”

The request for proposals for the Salem Creek Connector states that the city of Winston-Salem and the NC Department of Transportation have 60 days to review the proposal and decide whether or not Blythe Construction should build the Twin Arches. For all intents and purposes, the decision lies with Creative Corridors Coalition.

“The arches are going to cost $3.5 million,” Ivey said. “If, for example, they said, ‘We budgeted a million dollars,’ then they would have to come up with the additional funds. With a bid alternative, this allowed the contractor to set the price for the art, and then give it to Creative Corridors to decide if they want to accept that bid and pursue that.”

Jim Shaw, a fundraising co-chair for the Creative Corridors Coalition, said the executive committee has not met since the bids came in for the project, but he expects the matter to be discussed at the next meeting on Wednesday. Shaw is the CEO of Liberty Community Development Corp.

Prompted by the NC Department of Transportation’s plans to temporarily shut down a mile-long stretch of Business 40 between Church Street and Peters Creek Parkway in 2018 to replace aging bridges, Creative Corridors was conceived as an initiative to put an iconic design stamp on the corridor and highlight the city’s “arts and innovation” brand.

The project evolved to embrace all of the major roadways that surround and lead into downtown Winston-Salem. The coalition, which includes the Arts Council of Winston-Salem & Forsyth County and the Downtown Winston- Salem Partnership, has embraced four principles: green, artful, iconic and networking. Design Workshop, a national design firm, developed a set of design guidelines for the roadways and bridges.

“These four principles really are the conceptual underpinning of the guidelines document that we want every component of this network of roads that circle downtown — Business 40 and Martin Luther King Drive, and Broad Street, along with Peters Creek Parkway and the Salem Creek Connector — to embody,” said Brian Kubecki, a Winston-Salem architect who chairs the design review committee of the Creative Corridors Coalition. “This will really make Winston-Salem an incredible place, to where when you drive into downtown you know you’re entering this place. So many great cities are built around water. What we have are these networks of roads, and we should embrace it and treat it as an opportunity to create something wonderful.”

Construction of the new Salem Creek Connector and improvements to Martin Luther King Drive comprise the first phases of the Creative Corridors project.

The NC Department of Transportation expects construction of the Salem Creek Connector to begin this year and conclude in November 2016. Completion of the new road, with an interchange at US Highway 52, will provide a southern entry to downtown in the long term, along with a short-term detour to absorb traffic when Business 40 is shut down five years from now.

The Salem Creek Connector will link to Research Park Boulevard, which is already under construction in the Piedmont Triad Research Park. When completed, the Salem Creek Connector will connect the research park to Salem College, Salem Academy and Winston-Salem State University. The completion of the new roads, together with the build-out of the research park, has the potential to transform the landscape of Winston-Salem by extending the vibrancy of downtown into the east side of the city.

DuBois said the design proposal for the Salem Creek Connector came out of negotiations among Creative Corridors Coalition, the city of Winston-Salem and the NC Department of Transportation. Aesthetic enhancements to the roadway, or “betterments” in DOT parlance, will include landscaping, trees, decorative crosswalks and lighting. DuBois also noted that the new road will intersect with the Salem Creek Greenway, providing cyclists with additional connectivity.

Not counting the Twin Arches, the enhancements for the Salem Creek Connector are budgeted at $3.2 million. The federal government has agreed to cover 80 percent of the cost on condition that local sources provide a 20-percent match. The city of Winston-Salem has committed to half of the match, while Creative Corridors will take care of the other half through private dollars.

As work gets underway on the Salem Creek Connector, the design review committee of Creative Corridors Coalition plans to review the Martin Luther King Drive project next month to see if its different facets are consistent with design guidelines.

The Winston-Salem Transportation Department, the Creative Corridor Committee and Design Workshop are hosting a public input meeting to get feedback on proposed tree plantings, median treatments, history markers, art installations and decorative fencing for the Martin Luther King Jr. Drive corridor on Jan. 23 at Mount Zion Baptist Church. DuBois said other possibilities for the corridor include landscaping of the Business 40 interchange, a park at the turnaround near Union Station, a water fountain or spray-ground, and community story panels.

“It’s kind of condescending for Creative Corridors to say, ‘You need this,’” DuBois said. “They need to say — for example — ‘We want Dr. King.’ Or maybe it’s the Rams mascot.”

Meanwhile, the design review committee is finding its footing in preparation for what’s considered the big prize — the replacement of the bridges over Business 40. The committee was created by Winston-Salem City Council after council endorsed the design guidelines for Creative Corridors, and has met twice. At the committee’s second meeting, which took place last week, members discussed how they could best influence the process.

Assistant City Manager Greg Turner suggested that the committee create a process similar to the LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, certification created by the US Green Building Council, to reward features that are consistent with the Creative Corridors design guidelines.

“I think the tenor of this committee has to be very positive so it doesn’t come across as regulatory,” member Marty Marion said.

Turner advised committee members that they will likely have to use the public records process to obtain documents from the NC Department of Transportation for state road projects, which is virtually every roadway in the Creative Corridors plan.

Because of federal funding requirements the NC Department of Trans portation is obligated to hold its own public workshops. The two entities’ parallel public-input processes have not always dovetailed perfectly.

“As we’ve gone through this process, Creative Corridors has been an active participant in working groups and the design of the bridges,” Ivey said. “We told Creative Corridors that because of the federal requirements, we can’t just go in and say, ‘Creative Corridors, this is what you want the project to look like.’ … We told Creative Corridors they are welcome and encouraged to come to these meetings and put their ideas out there and to sell those ideas to the public.”

Some of the Creative Corridors supporters that have seen renderings by the NC Department of Transportation in response to public input, including Kubecki, have not been pleased.

“I think they have shown us they don’t really care what we do,” Kubecki told his fellow committee members last week. “They’re showing results of their public input. They’re showing they can do all this without any additional funds.”

Other members, such as Jimmy Norwood, said they wanted to see the renderings for themselves and have the committee as a whole review them before passing judgment.

DuBois said in an interview that the success of Creative Corridors is vital to the city’s future. He cited an employer that told him Winston-Salem ranks at the bottom of seven cities where the company does business as a place where young people want to come work. Pulling off the project would make Winston-Salem cool.

“We could choose not to do this, but there would be a cost,” DuBois said. “We would continue to lose people, who want to move to Austin, Texas.”

WANNA go?

The Winston-Salem Department of Transportation, the Creative Corridors Coalition and Design Workshop host a public-input meeting on design proposals for Martin Luther King Jr. Drive corridor improvements at the File Goodwin Center at Mount Zion Baptist Church, located at 950 File St., on Jan. 23 from 6 to 7 p.m. For more information, contact Greg Errett at 336.747.6871 or grege@cityofws.org.

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