Will High Point City Council foot the bill for the party in the Pit?
The master plan for revitalizing High Point’s center puts meat on the bones of several ideas already articulated by urban planner Andres Duany, including an urban play area, “dieting” North Main Street, creating new green space around the library and seeding downtown with shipping containers.
City Project, a city-supported nonprofit, presented recommendations from the master plan to a group of business leaders and city council members during a luncheon meeting at High Point Country Club last week.
Peter Freeman, a local architect who worked as a sub-consultant for Miami-based Duany Plater-Zyberk, presented plans for the Pit — a concrete abscess left in the wake of an architecturally failed parking deck that is being reclaimed as a gathering spot — to four members of city council on Monday. City Project is requesting $700,000 to clean up the site from the city. Richard Wood, a financial advisor with Wells Fargo who serves as the nonprofit’s board chair, said an additional $300,000 will be needed to equip the site with a sound system, lighting and portable stages.
“It used to be a double-decker parking garage,” Freeman said. “Sometime in the ’70s they found some structural problems on the upper deck and there was demolition work that was done. So we’re left with this depressed urban area, which is actually pretty darn cool. And that’s what we want to take advantage of. In the back part there is part of that doubledecker area. And it just happens to have a pedestrian-level walkway that goes out to Main Street. Additionally, right across the street on Main Street is a hotel that can be used to support this venue.”
Once fully realized, Freeman said the Pit could have an area for games such as cornhole, bocce and “full-size Jenga”; murals; oversized screens for televised sporting events and movies; and a music venue on the first level, where “the acoustics are just fantastic.” The venue would hold contests to commission the murals as part of a strategy to engage the kind of young, creative and educated people the city is trying to attract.
“The idea is to build in this flexibility so that young people can do things differently, the way they want to do them,” Freeman said.
Executive Director Wendy Fuscoe said City Project hired Freeman to draw schematics of the Pit, in addition to his role as a sub-consultant of Duany Plater-Zyberk.
Freeman’s presentation focused on young creatives as a target for the city’s revitalization efforts, noting that there are 330,000 college students within 75 miles of High Point.
“These are young, educated, creative individuals, who have not made decisions about where to settle down, raise their families and start their businesses,” he said.
Mayor Bernita Sims took a noncommittal tack when asked if she would support the request for funding for the Pit, while describing herself as “a big supporter of City Project.”
“When it comes down to the money that it’s going to take, I think we need a comprehensive plan,” she said. “This is big, in my opinion. It doesn’t take one or two years. If you look at what’s happened in Greenville, South Carolina, that took decades. I’m more concerned with what the process looks like. The Pit is a million dollars; that’s the figure I came up with. What will it cost to redevelop the library parking lot and the area along North Main Street? You can’t do this in a vacuum. Whatever Duany gives as his idea, a good planner will attach a cost. What do you think it would cost to do road dieting?” Sims alluded to several other components of the initiative, which have been highlighted by Duany and City Project over the past several months. Fuscoe said City Project has recently received eight proposals from private firms interested in studying the feasibility of “dieting,” or slowing down traffic on North Main Street to create a pedestrian-scale urban environment.
The master plan recommendation for dieting North Main Street includes creating a lane down the center for left turns and emergencies that could be used for a future streetcar, widening the sidewalks to accommodate pedestrians, adding parallel parking to provide a buffer from the street and planting trees.
“Whoever we choose will be studying the impact and implications of dieting the street,” she said. “That will be quite the controversial project. When you go from making a roadway five lanes to three lanes, what is the impact of that? If most vehicles are thru-traffic going to Thomasville, then they’ll probably choose other roads to get there. If we find out that a lot of these cars are going to places within our areas, then that’s another matter.”
Fuscoe said she hopes the nonprofit will choose a firm by the end of the year, and have an impact study completed by the middle of 2014. She added that the process will emphasize public participation to ensure that anyone who lives in the affected area will be able to provide input. City Project also hired Freeman to produce schematic drawings based on a recommendation in the master plan to create additional green space in front of the High Point Public Library by tearing out part of the parking lot. Fuscoe and Wood picked up a check for $15,000 from the High Point Regional Association of Realtors, which will cover most of the cost of the work.
The master plan also includes recommendations for a children’s park in the parking lot in front of North State Communications as a teaser for a future children’s museum, a center city amphitheater, adding sidewalk cafés on Commerce Avenue and transforming the Old Oak Hollow Mall, which is owned by High Point University, into a regional incubator called the Inc. Pad.
Freeman also said the Wells Fargo parking lot on East Kivett Drive has been cited as a possible site to line the street with shipping containers custom chopped to accommodate retail stores and bars. Wood said before the presentation that he is skeptical of the idea — one of Duany’s signature proposals — because he questions whether a market will develop to support the ventures.
High Point Partners, a business group that hosted the presentation, voted to expand the size of its board of directors to create a seat for a representative of City Project.
Scott Tilley, a financial advisor with Merrill Lynch who chairs High Point Partners, urged his fellow business leaders and city council members to support the revitalization effort.
“If we don’t do something now and we let the momentum and the energy die down, it will be a very long time before we have the opportunity again,” he said. “So let’s seize the day, seize the moment, have some leadership out of our group and make some of these things happen.”