Now that the City of Winston-Salem is finally about to reclaim the old Union Station building, leaders at Winston-Salem State University are envisioning what a proposed revitalized train station and transportation hub would mean for the school.
Davis Garage has occupied the former Union Station building, a registered historical landmark constructed in 1926, for the past 35 years. For years, the City has been in a financial tug-a-war with the family who owns the garage. After using its eminent domain power and forking over $1.35 million, the City says the struggle is nearly over. It has given the Davis family until the end of November to vacate the property, although the family has requested that the City Council consider a lease extension at a Council meeting later this year.
“The acquisition has taken longer than we had anticipated,” said Assistant City Manager Greg Turner, who oversees the city’s Transportation division. “But transportation projects tend to be long range projects. You prepare yourself for that when you start something like this.”
Once the garage has left, the city has big plans for the property, which sits on Excelsior Street, perpendicular to the Business 40 interchange
on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive and adjacent to the sprawling WSSU campus. City leaders plan to use state and federal dollars to renovate the property and make it again a center for transit activity.
Carol Davis, executive director of Winston-Salem State’s Simon Green Atkins CDC, has worked for years to foster economic development and growth along the Martin Luther King Corridor, or “The Golden Mile,” as the CDC has dubbed it. Davis believes a resurrected train station could be a key component in redevelopment efforts in the area.
“Union Station is in a great location. It’s easily accessible from downtown and major highways – US 52 and Interstate 40 and Business 40. A lot of people are excited about the future of this building,” Davis said. “Restoring the historic Union Station will create a beautiful gateway to the City and to the WSSU campus. It will be something that we can all be proud of and people will want to come see it and learn the history of the site.”
The proposed first phase of the $20 million project will involve renovations to the street level of the building, as opposed to the lower levels closer to the train tracks. The street level would serve as a hub for PART (Piedmont Authority for Regional Transportation) buses, relieving some of the congestion at the downtown Clark Campbell Transportation Center. Once the property is turned over to the city, Turner expects this initial phase to take two to three years. Subsequent phases in the Union Station project could include making the station the eastern anchor for the city’s proposed streetcar system and adding regional and long distance passenger rail service. Currently, Winston-Salem is the only Triad city that does not have such service. Turner said city leaders are currently exploring several other transit options, but hope to have a concrete proposal by the end of the 2013 fiscal year.
Turner stressed the station would serve more as a satellite location, not a replacement for the Clark Campbell Transportation Center.
Owen Cooks, associate vice chancellor of Facilities at WSSU, believes the project will also have a big impact on strategic planning and development on campus.
“As I talk to folks on campus, about the campus master plan and development …, I’m frequently asked about the development of Davis Garage,” he reported. “There’s a keen interest in what’s happening with that project. That’s really key in what’s happening with the university’s development.”
Even in its initial stages, the project could offer big benefits for WSSU faculty, staff and students, Cooks said.
“We recognize that fully restored passenger train service and what type of connectivity it may have is potentially a long process, but other modes of transportation – taxi, bus, streetcar … as well as the potential use for WSSU’s own shuttle system all have near term benefits for WSSU and the surrounding community,” he said.
City Council Member Derwin Montgomery, who represents the city’s East Ward, where the building is located, said he is a proponent of the Union Station project.
“I think it’s going to be a great project,” said the WSSU alumnus. “Since I’ve been on the Council, I’ve been a big supporter of the redevelopment of the garage. I do believe that there are some positive byproducts that will happen for the whole city, as well as he surrounding area, as result of the project.”
Though he was willing to consider a lease extension for Davis Garage in the past, Montgomery said he would no longer support such an effort. He believes it is high time the city made good on its commitment to bring the project – which he sees as a strong potential catalyst for economic development tin the area – to fruition.
“The area’s seen lots of people come in and talk about what’s going to be done … and many of these things are not happening,” Montgomery said. “This community in particular has a history of promises unfulfilled, and this is just one (promise) that I think that we have to really be cognizant of and continue to push forward on.”