Recently the city of Winston-Salem finally broke ground on its Union Station property, located at 300 Martin Luther King Drive, right beside of Winston-Salem State University. There are many Union Stations throughout the country. Winston-Salem abandoned its Union Station in 1970. Up until 2012, the site was home to Davis Garage. In 2012 the city used eminent domain to acquire the former Union Station building and property from Harvey Davis. For years now there has been speculation, but precious few details about what the city was planning to do with Union Station. Despite years of neglect Union Station is a magnificent old building that could have been repurposed into something truly special.
Initially, Union Station was going to be restored to its original use. Union Station was going to be a railroad station connecting Winston-Salem with other cities in the state. But there isn’t any sense of urgency on the state or national level to expand rail service to mid-sized cities like Winston. Charlotte and Raleigh are connected by rail-other large cities like Dallas and Houston are expanding their commuter rail capacity. But not Winston. Winston has proposed building a streetcar system-if that ever happened-Union Station would be a part of it. At some point in our lifetimes, commuter rail service will return to Winston. But don’t bet on any trains coming through Winston’s Union Station any time soon.
Instead, the city of Winston-Salem is using $18 million to transform Union Station into “a local and regional bus terminal,” with city offices occupying the middle and bottom floors for the Department of Transportation-tenant space will also be available for retail. Community leaders have been reassured by the city that Union Station will not replace the Clark Campbell Transportation Center on West 5th Street-which has long been an objective of the capitalist class in Winston. Developers want to get the downtown bus station out of Downtown Winston, away from luxury housing, upscale restaurants, and retail. The new Union Station will “augment” the downtown bus station and remove a considerable number of poor people of color from downtown.
Make no mistake-that is Mayor Joines’ objective. I’m not asserting that Mayor Joines is racist, but he is President of the Winston-Salem Alliance, which means that he literally works for the city’s developers and business owners and they don’t want poor people downtown. It’s that simple. The city won’t replace its downtown bus station, but don’t be surprised if more, and more predominately poor passengers of color are diverted to MLK Drive and away from West 5th Street.
Years ago, when Hanes textile plants were manufacturing at full capacity, when cigarettes were still massed produced in Reynolds’ vast downtown network of factories, back then it was important to have a bus station downtown so that workers could use buses to get to-and-from work. Today, poor working-class workers are not needed downtown to the same extent that they were twenty years ago. As Downtown Winston has flourished in the last decade, downtown developers want the poor removed from the center of the city. They want them pushed further east, to Winston-Salem State’s doorstep. I’m truly surprised that East Winston’s elected leaders are so enthusiastic about another bus station in their community. This is a real failure of vision on the part of the city of Winston-Salem, particularly Councilman Derwin Montgomery and longtime Councilwoman Vivian Burke.
This is a far cry from what East Winston actually needs. East Winston doesn’t need another bus station. East Winston needs another bus station like they need another low-income housing project. How is a bus station going to stimulate East Winston’s economy? The type of mixed restaurant and retail development planned for the former Bailey Power Plant is what East Winston desperately needs. When Winston’s former Union Station closed it was a segregated facility with separate water fountains, bathrooms and waiting areas for whites and blacks. The new Union Station will showcase how separate but supposedly equal works today. Predominately white, affluent Downtown Winston gets upscale development facilitated and subsidized by the city and county, but predominately Black, working-class East Winston must happily settle for police sub-stations and bus stations from the city.
Derwin Montgomery whose ward contains Union Station and Burke bragged at Union Station’s groundbreaking about their years of work to make Union Station’s renovation a reality. But Union Station is such a beautiful building. It’s a gem, in the heart of East Winston. It should have been redeveloped into a mixed-use space with restaurant, retail space, and public space for the community to gather. Union Station would have been a great place to house the New Winston Museum.
So much of East Winston’s past has been razed over the years. Winston-Salem State expanded at the expense of the Columbia Heights neighborhood around it. Reynolds expanded its factories at the expense of the Depot Street neighborhood. Belews Street was sacrificed for highway 52, as was parts Happy Hill, Winston’s oldest African American neighborhood. A lot of Winston’s history has been bulldozed. But much of Winston’s predominately white neighborhoods have been preserved. Old Salem, is, of course, the greatest example of historic preservation in Winston. By contrast, few, if any of Winston’s black neighborhoods have been deemed worthy of historic preservation. Anytime the city needs to build a highway or public housing; it’s always been at the expense of East Winston.
The city had a chance to facilitate a special development project in East Winston. Union Station could have been a restaurant, retail center with an African American focus. It could have been a place where Winston-Salem State’s students and community members gather. It could have been a destination place. It could have been special. Now it’s going to be a fancy bus station with a token amount of space for restaurants and retail.
It’s a real shame. County Commissioners ignore East Winston, but East Winston’s own councilmen are content to get mere crumbs from the city. I can’t believe their lack of vision, their willingness to acquiesce to Mayor Joines. It would have been better if the city had left the Union Station property alone. I’d rather see a garage at 300 Martin Luther King Drive than $18 million in tax dollars be spent to put a bus station beside of Winston-Salem State.
*article has been lightly edited to correct typos.