December 27, 2012The High Point City Project's efforts to raise $450,000 to hire the Miami-based architectural firm Duany Plater-Zyberk & Co. (DPZ) to redesign High Point's city core are succeeding, and City Project Director Richard Wood said last week that architect Andrés Duany, a founding partner of the firm, will come to High Point in May 2013.
Wood said the City Project has raised $385,000 in pledges toward the goal. He said the City Project has $135,000 in hand and expects to raise the rest in time for Duany and his team to come in May. The City Project is planning on Duany's first planning session to be a public one at the High Point Theatre.
The City Project brought Duany to High Point for a visit in March. In a series of meetings with High Point officials, business groups and the public, he critiqued High Point and made suggestions for its architectural improvement. If the City Project hires Duany, his May visit will be to work.
Architect Tom Low, the director of the Charlotte office of DPZ, has said that he worked for a year to get Duany to come to High Point, and that DPZ, if hired, would open a design studio in a central location where a 50-50 mix of High Pointers and outside experts would spend seven to 10 days brainstorming on High Point's future.
The High Point Theatre meeting would be the first of the DPZ team's brainstorming sessions, which Wood said would last 10 to 12 hours a day. Wood said, "They'll leave with a master plan."
DPZ is perhaps best known for designing entire master-planned towns, including Seaside, Florida, and Kentlands, Maryland. In Greensboro, his firm designed the Southside and Willow Oaks neighborhoods. Seaside was used as the setting for the Jim Carrey movie The Truman Show, which gave the company exposure.
The area that the DPZ team would redesign includes properties fronting North Main Street in the Uptowne area, downtown and the furniture market showroom district, and the area north of High Point University's main campus, including a neighborhood north of Lexington Avenue and Oak Hollow Mall. Most of the study areas would be mixed-use developments.
Mixed-use, in planning terms, means a mixture of residential and office, commercial or industrial uses.
DPZ has a plan for its High Point master plan project. That would have Duany and Low leading the High Point effort, with Freeman Kennett Architects of High Point; Hall Planning & Engineering of Tallahassee, Florida; The Community Land Use and Economics Group of Arlington, Virginia; and the Crabtree Group engineering of Salida, Colorado, working as subcontractors.
The plan would have DPZ hold workshops from May 8 to May 14. DPZ would produce the master plan, a parking analysis, building floor plans, an economic feasibility study, recommendations for Main Street, a proposed zoning ordinance and a regulation plan.
Peter Freeman and John Kennett of Freeman Kennett Architects have already done architectural renderings of some of the changes the City Project would like to make to High Point. They include many of the things Duany has suggested, including slowing down traffic on Main Street to encourage shopping, possibly adding roundabouts; encouraging apartments on second floors over businesses; and adding large mixed-use developments and entertainment venues to make High Point more of a destination city.
The City Project already has drawings for a proposed amphitheater at 102 S. Main St. The proposed amphitheater complex would include not only the amphitheater but a large "water wall" and small parks, and would be used for furniture market events, movies, outdoor plays and laser shows.
Other already drawn projects include proposed recreations of the old plank road down High Avenue, redesigns of the YWCA on Gatewood Avenue and the Bernice Bienenstock Furniture Library on North Main Street and several large residential and retail mixed-use developments for different parts of the city core.
The City Project and private investors have already succeeded in making improvements to some areas of the core of old High Point, including the renovation of buildings on Washington Street, $4 million in city-funded street and sidewalk work on Washington Street and numerous facade renovations funded by a facade grant program approved by the City Council.
Wood and High Point officials said the city has so far spent $22,000 on facade grants, which have attracted $363,000 in matching private spending on facades.
Wood said, "It shows what a little public investment can do to generate a lot of private advancement."
High Point City Manager Strib Boynton said that, between the money donated for the DPZ study and private-sector money spent on facades, $750,000 has gone into neighborhood improvements, not including privately funded renovations of buildings on Washington Street and in Uptowne.
Boynton said he has heard complaints over the three years the City Project board has been working.
"Throughout the whole process, folks have been asking, 'Where's the private sector?'" Boynton said. "Well, the private sector has been involved."
The DPZ study may clash with the city having already hired the Chapel Hill office of Denver-based Clarion Associates to rewrite High Point's zoning ordinance.
Duany has attacked most downtown building codes as impediments to private development, and especially to the development of old-school, or New Urban, downtowns, whichever you want to call them. He called for throwing out most of the rules generated by city planners.
Meanwhile, Clarion Associates is planning to rewrite High Point's entire development code over a period of two years, possibly generating many more regulations.