March 14, 2013The High Point City Project may have a world-renowned architectural firm, but the Southwest Renewal Foundation has that beat cold. For the second year, it's hired goats to do the hard work of renewing southwest High Point.
South High Point isn't waiting for the arrival of high-profile Miami-based architectural firm Duany Plater-Zyberk & Co. (DPZ) to redesign some of High Point's core neighborhoods. It's going to redesign part of its own neighborhood in March, well before DPZ architects arrive on May 8.
The City Project has identified eight old, mixed residential-commercial-industrial neighborhoods the City Project plans to eventually renovate. With High Point University and Uptowne driving the redevelopment car, the idea is apparently for development to trickle down geographically from north to south.
Two south High Point neighborhoods that are showing the gumption to jumpstart renewal before their northern neighbors with deeper pockets get around to it: Southside, increasingly dubbed "SoSi" by neighborhood boosters, and southwest High Point, the toughest nut to crack of all the old High Point neighborhoods.
SoSi is the neighborhood surrounding the stretch of South Main Street that includes the High Point Campus of Guilford Technical Community College (GTCC). Southwest is High Point's traditional industrial and mill-village center.
SoSi, with GTCC driving it, is jumping ahead of the northern neighborhoods and holding its own public charrette, or marathon design session, on March 19 and March 20 in room 203 of Building H4 on the college campus. The session is to produce designs for possible uses for a largely undeveloped two-block stretch of commercially zoned property across from the GTCC High Point Campus on South Main Street and Vail Avenue.
The SoSi design session will be run by the Center for Creative Economy (CCE) of Winston‐Salem and its affiliate, Design Link. CCE and Design Link will bring a North Carolina based team of designers, architects, urban planners and economic development experts.
City Project Executive Director Wendy Fuscoe announced the GTCC design session after word came through that North Carolina Department of Transportation money was available to install a grassed pedestrian island in the middle of South Main Street in front of the college. The crosswalk between GTCC on the east side of South Main Street and the west side of South Main Street is now a pedestrian nightmare.
That stretch of South Main Street and the accompanying city rights-of-way now range from 85 to 95 feet wide. GTCC has long been trying to get traffic lights, effective speed bumps or a pedestrian island in the middle of the street. According to Janette McNeill, dean of the GTCC High Point campus, four people have been hit recently crossing South Main Street in front of the GTCC campus.
A proposed design cross section of the street provided by the City Project shows the street reduced to two 12-foot lanes going each way, separated by a 15-foot traffic island with grass and trees, with 8-foot traffic islands, also planted with trees, separating the northbound and southbound South Main Street lanes from the sidewalks on either side.
The March 19 sessions will include the presentation of a Southside market analysis and two design sessions to plan the north corner of South Main Street and Vail Avenue. The March 20 sessions will include a community wrap-up session and presentations of the visual designs and findings of the design sessions.
Southwest High Point will be the toughest renewal job in the city, because, except for its northeast corner, which has furniture showrooms, stores and businesses, it is dominated by mills and unused factories. Dorothy Darr, the executive director of the Southwest Renewal Foundation, describes it as an underused business zone, which is true enough but doesn't quite express the magnitude of the devastation – and as a diamond in the rough, which doesn't quite capture the potential of southwest if the bulk of it can be renovated and brought back into the city.
Southwest is huge. And, more than any other area, has contributed to High Point's not-entirely-earned reputation as an industrial brownfield.
Darr has been operating largely on her own, parallel to the City Project. The Southwest Renewal Foundation has been incorporated as a nonprofit in its own right, and has been getting by on small donations, including some from the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina.
Darr points out the bright spots in southwest: the North Carolina Shakespeare Festival, a mini-renaissance of antique dealers ("great funky antiques and fine accessories") – including the High Point Antique, Art and Design Center at 641 West Ward Ave. – and the neighborhood's proximity to GTCC.
She has no illusions about southwest's image – ugly and neglected, with endless overgrown lots.
"Kudzu," she said. "Lots and lots of kudzu. Thirty acres of kudzu in the middle of our city."
The Southwest Renewal Foundation is working on a southwest greenway plan under which it has planted 30-some trees, acquired six acres of land from Guilford County and is partnering with the Guilford County health department to start community gardens.
In the biggest job of all, the foundation is clearing out 12 sections of railway corridor and Richland Creek, which runs through southwest and the banks of which has been overgrown for years. The creek and railroad beds would connect six public parks
"You must see the creek before you can think about cleaning it up," Darr said. "Right now, it's just covered in kudzu. Some people hadn't seen the creek for 20 years."
The foundation has discovered the cure for kudzu – goats. The foundation brought goats to clear kudzu in 2012 and plans to do so again from May to October 2013. Fifty goats, guided by a goatherd dog, will attack the kudzu.
Darr said, "It's going to take about six months for 50 goats to eat 30 acres of kudzu."
DPZ introduced High Point to the concept of the charrette and will hold such a session in the old Wright's Clothing Store building at 126 N. Main St. from May 8 to May 15. The problem with the DPZ charrette is that it will, like much of High Point's redevelopment, ignore south High Point.
The City Project has raised $450,000 to hire DPZ to design a new High Point city center along the stretch of North Main Street called Uptowne, redesign High Point's furniture showroom district and redesign the commercial areas around High Point University, which is the largest donor to the project, at $125,000.