Members of Union Baptist Church met last week to discuss the future of the community surrounding the massive edifice and how they might work to positively impact it.
Evon Smith, president of Sustainable Community Resources, a real estate development firm, led the meeting, which centered around possible strategic efforts that could change economic climate of the Trade Street/Northwest Boulevard area. Smith, the former executive director of Goler Community Development Corp. (CDC), said she convened the meeting at her home church to gauge the community’s interest.
“What we’re doing is just really finding out the community’s needs and desires as well as working with the church to determine their goals for their property,” said the Shaw University alumna. “We want to really talk about the changes people want to see and help them feel empowered about being a change agent.”
Smith, a native of Springfield, Mass., said she is hoping to coordinate with members of the church and the Union CDC, an autonomous agency that was established by Union members, to help spark an economic revolution in the neighborhood. Sustainable Resources is an equity partner in the South Elm Street Redevelopment Project, an $80 million restorative effort in downtown Greensboro, and Smith said she hopes to bring some of the same regenerative energy to the North Ward, where the mega church is situated.
City Council Member Denise “DD” Adams, who represents the ward, attended last Friday’s meeting to encourage the group to take an active role in making the area a better place to live, work and play.
“I’d like to see more economic development but I need the citizens of the North Ward to get engaged,” said Adams, who has served on the Council since 2009. “I’d like to see us come together as a group … we may have to parlay our money and our resources in order to get the areas developed that need to be developed.”
In the past, city dollars have supported improvement efforts in the vast ward, including sidewalk installation and repairs and the construction of the Enclave Apartments on Shattalon Drive, but the North Ward lags behind many of its counterparts when it comes to big development projects, Adams said.
“I just want to see the same level of development that I see in the west side, the southwest side, the northwest side, I want to see that same development in the North Ward,” she remarked. “…I want (citizens) to be inspired and engaged and passionate about it like myself and some of the others.”
Adams, who was a part of the original East Winston CDC in the 1980s, said it’s high time the city’s north side began to demand the changes it deserves.
“We should be beyond begging people to come to our communities to develop,” she stated. “Our dollars spend just like everybody else’s dollars, but the numbers will tell you that we are consumers. We need to become developers, too.”
Isaac “Ike” Heard Jr., an urban planning and community economic development consultant and analyst and University of North Carolina at Charlotte professor, led the group in exercises to help them flesh out a mission, vision and goals. He encouraged those present to envision what kinds of services and amenities they’d like to see in the area. Among the suggestions were arts or cultural and medical facilities, educational and training opportunities and a grocery store.
Raleigh native Fran Oates, who has served on the Union CDC since it was formed more than 12 years ago, said the community’s desires now are closely linked to the needs the CDC identified over a decade ago.
“We surveyed the church one night and asked them what they would like to see, and it was the same list,” said Oates, the elementary education program coordinator at Winston-Salem State University. “But we didn’t have the training or the foresight to see what they’re showing us now, how we could go and seek the funding.”
Though the CDC’s initial efforts stalled for a variety of reasons, after attending the meeting Friday, Oates said she believes CDC leaders may have what they need to make something happen this time around.
“I’m excited,” she declared. “I think now with Council member (Adams) saying, ‘Let’s go for it,’ and Pastor (Mack) saying ‘We’re ready to do this thing,’ now we’ve got the energy in this that we need.”
Miles Harry, owner of Miles Computer Service and a longtime Union member, said the meeting was a step in the right direction.
“I think it’s a great idea. I think it’s necessary that we get this community over here on the right foot because it’s dissolving. We’ve got to bring some attractiveness back to this community,” he stated. “…It’s a start. The proof’ll be in the pudding.”
Rev. Dr. Sir Walter Mack Jr., Union’s pastor, called the gathering, which continued with a four-hour session at the church on Saturday morning, “enlightening.” He added that the church looks forward to partnering with the CDC on revitalization efforts in the future.
“I thought the meeting went well. I thought people were motivated and excited and ready to actually do the things it’s going to take to get this project underway,” Mack said. “It’s really amazing to see where we’ve come from and the vision of where the city’s trying to go, and we want to be a part of that.”
The group, which consisted of about two dozen members, plans to meet again to continue issues in the community and begin identifying resources and devising solutions to combat the problems, Smith said.
For more information about the project, contact the church at 336-724-4223.