Growing pains and disappearing young people

In Greensboro, nightclubs paved the way for downtown revitalization. However dubious the artistic merits of the boom-boom nightclubs Joey Medaloni brought to South Elm Street in the 1990s and 2000s, they drew people and sparked reinvestment.

There would be no CenterPointe high-end condos without the restaurants and boutiques that Medaloni’s risk-taking ventures made possible. It’s perhaps inevitable — and grossly unjust — that Roy Carroll, CenterPointe’s owner, has led the effort to tamp down noise from the clubs so he can close sales with well-heeled empty nesters.

In Winston-Salem, over the past two decades, artists reclaimed Trade Street, once a haven for prostitution and punk clubs lacking proper plumbing. The galleries, boutiques and restaurants that throng the street substantiate Winston-Salem’s claim to be a “city of arts and innovation,” and the merchants formalized the neighborhood as the Downtown Arts District.

Business owners in the arts district were stung last week when the Winston-Salem City Council voted 8-1 to rezone several blocks on their northern frontier into an entertainment district. They worried aloud that increased competition for parking and public-safety challenges posed by inebriated club patrons will drive away business. They made the investment that brought the neighborhood back from the brink, they argue, and they operate businesses on thin profit margins, so why should the city jeopardize their fragile success?

This ground has been trod before in Greensboro. When a developer sought a rezoning in 2007 to build a five-story mixed-use retail and office building across from the Green Bean, longtime business owners on South Elm Street screamed that patrons who were accustomed to parking in front of the store would stop coming.

The majority of council wisely took a big-picture view in approving the city’s first entertainment district. Cities are geographic spaces that accommodate a high number and intensity of uses, after all. Nourishing overlapping uses encourages interaction and breeds collaboration and innovation. Overall growth attracts new talent and investment, and sustains livelihoods in a virtuous circle of mutual reinforcement.

Winston-Salem’s elected leaders have reason to feel nervous.

The city has one of the smallest populations of young people in the state. Only 27 percent of Winston-Salem’s residents are between the ages of 25 to 44, compared to 33.6 percent in Raleigh and Durham. (City leaders in Greensboro, where the 25-44 cohort is only 28.2 percent, should feel the same restlessness.)

In a sense, the entertainment district only ratifies what is already happening. When Ziggy’s reopened at the corner of Trade Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Drive after being displaced by Wake Forest University’s expansion, it joined the District Bar & Grille. But 7 th Street, the southern boundary of the entertainment district, has long served as a home for live music with the Garage and — before it closed — Elliott’s Revue. To make the initiative more tantalizing, the northward growth that the district represents promises to tie isolated neighborhoods such as Kimberly Park into the vibrancy of downtown.

Disclosure: YES! Weekly publisher Charles Womack is a part owner of Ziggy’s.

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