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REYNOLDS BUILDING ENTERS NEW ERA

daniel@yesweekly.com

After sitting empty for five years, the wheels are in motion for one of Winston-Salem’s most iconic landmarks to be redeveloped. The city’s historic Reynolds Building, located at 51 East Fourth Street, will become a mixeduse property that includes a boutique hotel, meeting space, a restaurant/ bar and luxury residential units on the upper floors.

On May 22, the building was purchased for $7.8 million through a partnership between Philadelphiabased PMC Property Group and San Francisco-based Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants. According to a press release from Kimpton, the hotel will feature 175 rooms including 36 suites, a fitness center and more than 6,000 square feet of event and meeting space. Kimpton spokeswoman Aimee Grove said no specific date for construction has been set, but the development is scheduled to open some time in 2015. PMC representatives could not be reached for comment.

A press conference hosted by RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company will be held at the building Friday which will include company president Andrew Gilchrist, Mayor Allen Joines, and representatives from PMC and Kimpton.

Reynolds spokeswoman Jane Seccombe said the conference is expected to mark the ceremonial transfer of ownership to the two developers. PMC technically already owns the property, valued at $5.3 million according to the Forsyth County GIS database.

The building was constructed in 1928 by the architects Shreve and Lamb to house Reynolds’ operations during a time of tremendous growth for the company. At 22 stories and 314 feet high, it was the tallest building in the south at the time and served as a model for the Empire State Building, which was built a few years later by the same architects. In addition to housing the Reynolds headquarters, the building also was home to several retailers and restaurants like the Caravan Room, which was located in the basement. There was also a telegraph room, a railway ticket office, and a clothing accessory store. Most of the outside tenants had departed from the building by the early 1980s, and in 2009 it was completely vacated. The building is currently in the process of being listed on the National Register of Historic Places Historic Resource Coordinator Michelle McCullough said the Reynolds dynasty is what put Winston-Salem on the map and turned it into a boomtown. She thinks the new development will solidify the history that already exists within those steel beams.

“Not only respecting the history of it but the built form of it is very exciting,” McCullough said. “And I think that’s going to continue the legacy that Reynolds had in downtown with that building and structure.”

She said the presence of the hotel and restaurant would open the building up to a demographic that previously had not been exposed to it.

“It’s a great mix, and it’s going to give people opportunities to great views and parts of that building that no one was ever allowed because you really had to be part of the Reynolds company to go in,” she said.

McCullough said the building’s redevelopment is yet another example of the rapid changes in the tobacco industry that have manifested themselves in Winston-Salem.

“It’s kind of like when you turn from a toddler and you start moving up and then you turn into a teenager and then an adult,” she said. “We’re seeing the warehouses and stuff having a new life to them. You know, they went all through the tobacco industry which built us up, went down for a long time, and now the Innovation Quarter’s coming in.”

McCullough said a good deal of the project will be funded using state tax credits, although the official cost has not yet been determined. She thinks PMC and Kimpton chose to invest in Winston-Salem over larger cities due to its diverse selection of institutions.

“It’s a small town with a big town feel,” she said. “We’ve got the arts, we’ve got tons of different cultural outlets. But we also have the educational universities here, so whoever’s bringing in families, you know you’ve got that to look forward to. But it also gives you the opportunities to hear lectures and be in that sort of educational realm.”

City-County Planning Board Director Paul Norby said most of the activity on Fourth Street lies west of Cherry Street, and the new tenants could breathe much needed life into that section of downtown. He thinks this project, in addition to the redevelopment of the Pepper building and the old Forsyth County Courthouse will increase pedestrian traffic when businesses go in.

“Now that those areas have become real strengths, and now that we’re having these projects that are happening in between, and you’ve got this huge momentum that’s happening in the Innovation Quarter,” Norby said. “I think the timing is just perfect for having something in this area right now.”

Downtown Winston-Salem Partnership President Jason Thiel agreed the project would have a positive impact to Fourth Street, especially with the presence of a hotel.

“Hotels always have a lot of activity with people walking in and out,” he said. “There’s greater demand for retail with people buying. The apartments will bring people who want services downtown as well as the hotel.”

Thiel said that while he is pleased overall with the look of downtown, there is a need to create a unified theme between the Innovation Quarter and the central business district, something he says can be done easily with new development.

“Success is when you have interchangeable, consistent, continuous uses along the entirety of Fourth Street,” he said. “This is really a research park built on the urban scale so that’s really positive.”

Thiel said he thought the discontinuity between neighborhoods surrounding the building was partially due to the fact that it sat empty for five years, but this was unavoidable for the most part.

“We knew that sometimes to take two steps forward you had to take a step back,” he said. “And I think I was always very confident that there would be demand for the building.”

Thiel said he thinks the sale of the building was in the city’s long-term best interest and expects a large number of visitors.

“If you’re travelling across and you’re the kind of person that likes to stay in one of these Kimpton hotels, it’s really a niche market,” he said. “A lot of people will dismiss something because it’s not good for them and they’ll dismiss it unilaterally across the board. Whereas sometimes for instance a downtown condo or a downtown hotel that is a boutique type of offering, there only needs to be a small segment of the market that needs to purchase it for it to be successful.” !

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