1. Bus route change chaos
The 2017 news cycle started in earnest when the Winston-Salem Transit Authority completely overhauled its bus routes. Months of preparations took place and many community meetings were held. But obviously, the implementation of WSTA’s new bus routes was a massive failure.
The new routes went into effect January 2. Immediately there was a community uproar. The new routes disrupted the lives of the city’s bus riders. They had to walk greater distances to get to a bus stop. They had a difficult time getting to and from their jobs.
If it ain’t broke don’t fix it. This often repeated phrase seems to be unknown to the Democratic majority on the Winston-Salem City Council. Councilmember Robert Clark, the lone Republican on the city council was the only councilmember to oppose WSTA’s redrawing of its bus routes.
After a few weeks, some tweaks to the bus routes were made. Some of the most obvious problems with the new routes were addressed. But as days and weeks went by WSTA’s new routes faded from the headlines and bus riders were forced to do their best with the new routes.
The new bus routes were supposed to be more efficient, replacing a hub and spoke model with direct routes. Fewer routes now go through the city’s downtown bus station. That might be the real reason that the new bus routes were implemented; to decrease the number of poor people in Downtown Winston. Despite the fact that Downtown Winston has received generous city, county, and federal subsidies, the poor aren’t welcome there.
2. Flow Spearheads Redevelopment Of The GMAC Building
Don Flow began redeveloping the GMAC Tower in recent months, with the approval of the Winston-Salem City Council and the blessing of Winston-Salem Alliance president and mayor, Allen Joines.
The GMAC Tower has been vacant for a few years now. It’s a 21-floor skyscraper, that looks like the relic from 1980 that it is. The glass side of the building is compelling. The granite sides of the building make casual observers wonder if the builders ran out of glass.
Flow has ambitious plans for the building. Along with a development company based in Charlotte, Flow plans on converting the old Integon Building into a mix of office, residential, entrepreneurial, and restaurant/retail space.
Apparently, there is no space in Don Flow’s building for a worker’s justice center. That would be a nice counterweight to Flow’s entrepreneurial center.
3. Sanctuary City Movement
Almost as soon as Donald Trump was elected in November 2016 local activists began rallying around at-risk immigrants. The Sanctuary City Coalition Winston-Salem was formed. By the start of 2017 coalition members were active on Facebook and present at city council meetings.
The coalition made a concerted effort to get the Winston-Salem City Council to consider becoming a Sanctuary City where undocumented immigrants wouldn’t have to fear being taken from their friends and family by Immigration Customs Enforcement. They were asking the city council to stand up for vulnerable immigrants in our community. But the W-S City Council lacked the courage to stand up to the radical Republicans in who control the N.C. General Assembly.
Sadly, the Sanctuary City Coalition didn’t find any allies in the W-S City Council. The Sanctuary City Coalition’s activism was matter-of-factly co-opted by Councilmember Dan Besse. Besse, always the cautious attorney at heart, introduced a welcoming city resolution that wouldn’t protect undocumented immigrants in any way.
Besse’s resolution sounded good and appeared to be the type of toothless resolution that a city council dominated by Democrats could pass. After all, just a few years prior Winston had declared itself a compassionate city.
But the political climate had changed dramatically in just a few short years. Hysterical Conservative activists (many of them from surrounding counties) came to W-S City Council meetings wearing red t-shirts. Public comment periods became verbal sparing contests between pro-immigrant and anti-immigrant speakers.
For a short time, Winston was in the national spotlight. This was a surprisingly contentious issue. But in the end, Besse’s Welcoming City resolution was pulled from the city council’s agenda before a vote was taken under pressure from local state representatives.
3. Opioid Crisis
2017 will be remembered for an opioid crisis, mass shootings, and dramatic climate change storms and fires. Here in Winston-Salem/Forsyth County, the opioid crisis took many lives in 2017. (See Lauren Michelle Church, age 27)
In the midst of mounting deaths, some members of the community stepped up to address the epidemic. In December 2016 Colin Miller started the Twin City Harm Reduction Collective along with Erika Mishoe. The city’s only needle exchange has done a lot of good; preventing Hepatitis C, educating addicts, and saving lives.
Despite the good that the Twin City Harm Reduction Collective has done, a few members of West Salem community objected to a syringe exchange being located in their West Salem neighborhood. This tiny, but vocal minority opposed to the TCHRC’s work at Green Street Methodist.
They found a champion in Councilmember John Larson. Councilmember Larson raised the possibility of restricting where syringe exchanges could be located. Other restrictions were also debated. In the end, regulating syringe exchanges in the midst of an epidemic went nowhere-which is where it deserved to go.
Local attorney turned anti-opioid addiction activist Kerri Sigler almost single-handedly got a Drug Court reinstated in Forsyth County. Sigler learned first-hand of the opioid epidemic when she was a public defender.
Moved by what she saw, Sigler started a non-profit called, Phoenix Rising. She raised funds, held benefits to raise awareness throughout the city. Through Sigler’s efforts, we now have a drug court. We haven’t had a drug court in our community since state funding dried up in 2011. Sigler is proof of what one determined woman can accomplish.
4. Salem Sits
I remember Monday, April 1oth well. That was the day that about 100 students at Salem College (according to the Journal) launched a sit-in. The collective action of those bold and courageous young women is absent in the Journal’s best of 2017 coverage (it is in TCB’s Top 100). But I was impressed with the collective action those women took.
The Salem Sits activists had many grievances with the college that they felt were not being addressed; from insufficient facilities and bad WiFi to racism and cultural insensitivity.
The sit-in went on for a few days, but it should be remembered for years to come and imitated by college students around the county. Fundamentally college is a fraudulent pyramid scheme where top administers profit and the average graduate is left to navigate a difficult job market, saddled with student loan debt.
5. The Central Library Is Resurrected
The Central Library was scheduled to open in the summer of 2017. As its completion neared, we were told that it would open in August. Sure enough, the Central Library opened in August-August 31, the very last day of the month.
The New Central Library is an amazing public building. But it took too damn long to get here. The library bonds were overwhelmingly approved by voters in 2006. The Forsyth County Commissioners (with a 5-4 Republican majority at the time) decided not to start the construction of a new library until some old bonds were paid off.
But their act of fiscal grandstanding, putting their precious budget above the will of the voters and actually costs the county a great deal of money. With construction cost rising each year, waiting until October 2014 to begin the project meant that the county didn’t get the bang for its buck that it would have if it had started construction in 2007 or 2008.
Waiting three years without a library was so difficult. Many segments of our city depend upon libraries. It’s the last public space in Downtown Winston. Every city needs a central library. It’s too bad for Winston-Salem that its central library is controlled by Forsyth County.
6. Liberty Street Goes From Dormant To Destination
In late 2016 Crafted opened on Liberty Street. A trendy restaurant from Greensboro choosing Liberty Street for its new Winston location, that would have never happened just a few years ago. Crafted set the table for Liberty Street’s growth in 2017.
In 2017 Gentrification officially marched from Trade Street to Liberty. This was the second year of Summer on Liberty, a downtown music series that had been on Trade Street for many years. “Liberty Street is the next Trade Street,” Gayle Anderson of the W-S Chamber of commerce told the Journal in 2016. Her words became a reality in 2017.
Gone are most of the businesses that catered to low to moderate income African Americans coming from the downtown bus station; convenience stores, bail bonds, and braiding establishments. In their place, trendy bars (so many bars: The Reboot Arcade Bar opened early in 2017, followed by Dogwood Hops and Crops, Bar Piña and the Trophy Room) restaurants, coffee shops, and a pricey gym.
Another important development on Liberty Street in 2017 was the opening of the AFAS Center for the Arts building on the corner of Liberty and Seventh. The AFAS Center for the Arts building opened in May (with Allen Joines present) overlooking the AFAS’ ARTivity on the Green. AFAS is now the lynchpin for Liberty Street’s redevelopment, leaving this commentator to think of AFAS as Art For Development’s Sake.
7. Wake Downtown Signals That Camel City Has Become A Meds And Ed Town
During the summer of 2017, Reynolds was bought out by British American Tobacco after 142 years of corporate independence. Though city leaders have denied it, losing another Fortune 500 headquarters is a blow to the city.
Reynolds still employees thousands of employees in Downtown Winston and in Tobaccoville, but its dominant role in the political economy of Winston ended years ago.
Wake Forest has filled some of the void left by the diminished presence of Reynolds, Hanes, and Wachovia/Wells Fargo. Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center is the largest employer in Forsyth County. Wake Forest Innovation Quarter is also a top employer in WS/FC. It has been a pillar of Downtown Winston’s revival in recent years.
The sign on 5th Street that for years read, “Pride In Tobacco,” now reads, “Wake Forest Innovation Quarter.” It’s a clear signal that Wake Forest now occupies the role that Reynolds once did in Winston.
The center of power in Winston has shifted from the top floor of the Reynolds’ Building to the campus of Wake Forest University. It is the driving force behind much of the development of our city. Like Reynolds before it, Wake Forest University, with its large endowment has greater resources than our city government.
Though Reynolds exploited laborers (particularly Black laborers) and fiercely fought against a union, Reynolds did give to the community on the back-end (land for the Central Library, Reynoldstown, Katie B. Hospital, etc). Most importantly, R.J. Reynolds paid taxes. Wake Forest doesn’t.
In recent years Reynolds has given to Wake Forest (buildings in the Innovation Quarter and Whitaker Park). But its time that Wake Forest to give to the people of Winston. Going forward they must acknowledge their responsibility to help the city that it has called home for the last 60 years.
Honorable mentions: 4. Minerva Cisneros Garcia takes sanctuary, gains freedom then gets shackled by I.C.E. Confederate statue remains downtown despite controversy, East Winston continues to languish behind the rest of the city, deaths and settlements at the Forsyth County Jail, Krispy Kreme pivots to Charlotte, Cardinal Innovations scandal, Camel City Disptach stops posting, First Baptist on Fifth closes its daycare center, Herbalife’s Five Year Anniversary in Winston, 60-year anniversary of WS/FC schools integrating, 15. the opening battle of Boston-Thurmond, the continued hollowing out of the W-S Journal, Business 40 construction begins, Allen Joines becomes the longest-serving mayor in Winston’s history, Happy Hill gets recognition, Wells Fargo (a bank with a significant presence in Winston) commits one financial crime after another, and last and least; a damn cell tower was approved in Ardmore!