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DIFFERENCE-MAKERS NOW AND THEN

by Daniel Schere

daniel@yesweekly.com | @Daniel_Schere

With the close of 2014, we wanted to identify the individuals and groups that made the most noise in Winston- Salem and High Point, or were the most influential. These were the people who stood out the most.

Reid and Kirsten Hinsley

A husband and wife team can now claim responsibility for one of Winston-Salem’s newest regulations””the operation of golf carts on city streets. Reid and Kirsten Hinsley have been on what has become a two-year quest to increase the amount of nightlife downtown. They started the website http://camelcitynightlife.com in 2013

in order to create an online guide for bargoers that informs them of special offers. This year the Hinsley’s were awarded a total of $10,000 from the city of Winston-Salem by winning the small business competition with their idea Camel City Caravans. The idea is to use golf carts to transport small amounts of people around downtown at night. The Hinsleys have been attending committee meetings since then to advocate for golf carts as an alternate means of transportation. On Oct. 27 the city council approved changes to the city code that would allow golf carts to operate as “vehicles for hire.” This would mean that drivers could charge no more than $3 per ride and must not exceed 20 miles per hour. Additionally, golf carts may only operate within the Central Business District and Central Industrial District; the two areas of the city the Hinsleys hope to connect.

Bond Advocates This year while we watched vicious TV ads for a US Senate race, the hottest political topic in Winston-Salem was whether voters would pass five bond referenda worth a total of $139.2 million. A bond referendum had not been seen on a ballot here since 2000, but it was necessary this time due to lingering effects from the recession of 2008.

All five referenda passed easily on Nov. 4 in part thanks to the efforts of the city council and the three person committee of Steve Strawsburg, Sarah Smith and Walteria Spaulding to inform the public of which projects the bonds will fund. It will include repairs to streets and sidewalks, economic development expansion, repairs to public safety facilities, housing assistance and expansion of parks.

We Heart High Point We would be remiss if we did not include at least one notable development in High Point. Perhaps most remembered will be the drama surrounding the resignation of former mayor Bernita Sims over a worthless check she wrote in November 2013, and the election of Bill Bencini as the city’s next mayor. But the other increasingly intriguing part of High Point is the movement, “We Heart High Point,” which was started by David Rosen and Monica Peters. The group aims to bring more life to the city’s urban inner core “” a part of town that many say is experiencing the same kind of deterioration as Detroit. They have advocated for fewer restrictions on small businesses and dieting Main Street down to fewer lanes in order to make it more pedestrian friendly. One space they have been passionate about turning into an event space is a sunken parking lot located at 100 W. High Avenue known as “the Pit.” The group has been critical of the current city council, and its Facebook page often contains sassy posts about other cities around the country that they would like to see High Point model themselves after. Rosen himself ran for city council this fall but was unsuccessful.

RJ Reynolds Inc Reynolds turned over a piece of its and Winston-Salem’s history this summer to two outside developers when the 86 year-old Reynolds building was sold for $7.8 million. Built in 1928, it served as the headquarters of RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company and was once the tallest building in the city. Philadelphia-based PMC Property Group and San Francisco-based Kimpton Hotels will develop the building into a structure that is part hotel, part retail and part residential. The transformation of a building that was once Winston-Salem’s economic engine is aimed at encouraging tourists to frequent more downtown businesses and increasing foot traffic. The building has sat empty for five years but will likely be completed by the fall, PMC President Ron Caplan said at a press conference in June. Reynolds also made headlines this summer in its purchase of Greensboro-based Lorrilard for more than $27 billion. In addition, Reynolds announced this month that CFO Thomas Adams will step down early this year and be replaced by Executive Vice President Andrew Gilchrist.

Dr. Eric Tomlinson

One facet of Winston-Salem that has been on the increase this year is the city’s Wake Forest Innovation Quarter. This part of the city has grown dramatically during the last 20 years and whereas at one point the only people you would find there were Wake Forest med school students, it is beginning to welcome a more diverse crowd that includes entrepreneurs and members of the public that simply wish to conduct meetings. This year, two new additions to the WFIQ helped do that. The co-working space Flywheel opened this summer as a location where groups can hold business functions or seminars. It even includes a bar and a basketball court. Later Forsyth Tech got in on the scene when it moved its small business center and biotechnology program into the 525@Vine building. While many have been involved in the success of the innovation quarter, it seems fitting to give credit to its leader Dr. Eric Tomlinson. Tomlinson has emerged as a major player in Winston- Salem, advocating at public meetings for policies that he thinks will benefit the WFIQ and the city overall. This year he has taken on an unpopular position regarding skateboarding, calling for a ban in the innovation quarter in order to prevent structures like railings from being damaged.

No one could have predicted who would shape the Triad in 2014, and 2015 will be no easier to foresee. With that said, here are four anticipated areas of discussion on the horizon that we can expect to see pop up as topics of conversation.

Forsyth County Library Renovations

This year marked the beginning of a transition in the life of Forsyth County’s main downtown library branch.

The building, located at 660 W. Fifth Street, closed Oct. 15 to undergo renovations that will last about two and a half years at a cost of more than $20 million. When completed, the library will contain a café, an auditorium, green space and a greater assortment of technology. In the meantime, most services have been moved into the Forsyth County Government Center, including the North Carolina Room. Library visitors will still be able to get the number of books they could before from either the main branch or the other branches, but for some 2015 may be a year of adjusting to a temporary routine.

Sweepstakes Businesses

Sweepstakes operations are becoming an increasingly hot topic in North Carolina, and the conversation has been swirling around Winston-Salem since Oct. 6. The legality of sweepstakes operations is somewhat murky, but the city has made the compromise of allowing them in select zones known as Highway Business districts. All sweepstakes businesses have been given a grace period until June 30 to relocate, or they will be forced to close. There are currently two locations that are being considered for rezoning HB in order to allow additional sweepstakes businesses to move in. This has prompted passionate opposition from surrounding neighborhood coalitions that are worried about the overgrowth of the businesses. The city council has repeatedly pushed the issue down the road. It is scheduled to be discussed again in March.

Highway Construction

Drivers on Business 40 have already become accustomed to construction, but even more will be coming beginning in 2015. State and local officials gathered at Pisgah United Methodist Church in Kernersville Nov. 14 for the groundbreaking ceremony of I-74, the first leg of the Winston-Salem loop that will connect Business 40 and US 158. This section of the project will cost $154 million, some of which will likely be paid for through a $1.4 billion transportation bond initiative that Gov. Pat McCrory has put forth to the General Assembly. This section of the loop is expected to take three years to complete. We are also not far from a two-year shutdown of Business 40 between Fourth Street and Church Street that will begin in mid-2016 to accommodate roadwork.

Higher Taxes

In June as part of the city’s budget negotiations for Fiscal Year 2014-2015, the city property tax rate was raised one cent. This was a response to the general assembly’s phasing out of the business privilege license tax and the exclusion of business software from the property tax base. If the business privilege license tax is repealed entirely by 2016, as is expected, the city is projected to lose $2.6 million in tax revenue. With the additional loss of the historic tax credit and film incentives, the city will be forced to pay for those things itself. It also must fund the $139.2 million bond referenda that were passed by voters on November 4.!

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