July 19, 2012The High Point City Council did an unusual thing on Monday, July 16 – it approved a new business in the old Washington Street business district.
In dual unanimous votes, the City Council approved special-use permit applications by Jacquelyn Haizlip to allow a bar at 607 Washington St. and a parking lot at 619 Washington St., both in the Washington Street Mixed Use Center Overlay District, which was created to guide redevelopment along Washington Street, High Point's traditional black business district.
The City Council's votes weren't unusual because they granted special-use permits – the City Council does that all the time. They were unusual because new businesses on Washington Street are a rarity, and because most of the planned renewal of the business district so far exists primarily on paper.
There are exceptions: Becky's & Mary's Restaurant at 731 Washington St., run by Becky Ingram, and 613 Washington St., where Patrick Harman, executive director of the Hayden-Harman Foundation, has renovated an old building into offices and retail or art gallery space. But some of Washington Street's traditional buildings have been demolished, and what remains is a mixture of barbers, empty buildings and churches.
That makes the launching of any new business on Washington Street something for High Point to celebrate.
The 600 block of Washington Street, where the two parcels are located, lies along the north side of Washington Street between 4th and Hobson streets.
Although Haizlip's proposed business is called a bar, as required by the High Point zoning ordinance, she described it as an event center and as a private club – which means it won't have to sell food like most bars.
Haizlip said the space will be used for live music, primarily jazz, and dancing – as well as for community events for the Washington Street neighborhood, such as baby showers.
The High Point Planning and Development Department recommended the special-use permits, saying they would fulfill two objectives of the High Point zoning ordinance: to encourage infill, mixed-use, cluster development and higher residential densities, and to conserve and revitalize a historic district.
In most neighborhoods in High Point, bars can't be near churches, but in the Washington Street overlay district they can, if property owners demonstrate that the bars won't cause problems for neighbors or change the tone of the neighborhood.
Haizlip and High Point planners argued that the bar would add to the neighborhood by attracting adults at night, making the neighborhood safer – Haizlip said that all members would be 30 years old or older – if that's even legal.
They also argued that turning what is now an overgrown, bottle-strewn lot at 619 Washington St. into a parking lot would provide shared parking for churches and businesses.
The arguments weren't needed; the councilmembers were clearly in favor of the proposal from the start. High Point Mayor Becky Smothers kicked off the discussion by asking whether the other councilmembers had read the information on the special-use permit applications. They had, so Smothers told the city planners present to dispense with reading the background material.
A representative from the law firm Smith Moore Leatherwood told the councilmembers that, in addition to providing 20 new parking spaces, the bar would be a nonsmoking venue – it has to be by law – with security guards to escort patrons back to their cars. She said the bar would bring jazz back to High Point as well as being a venue for social events. She said, "Clearly, what Ms. Haizlip has proposed is much more than a bar."
The proponents of the bar said it would have a small outside deck with wrought-iron railings, tables and speakers for music – but after some questions about noise from councilmembers they volunteered to drop the speakers.
The noise discussion set off an exchange between Smothers and Councilmember Bernita Sims, a longtime supporter of revitalizing Washington Street.
"Well, the crowd is going to be 30 or over," Smothers said. "They won't last too long."
Sims replied, "Speak for yourself, Ms. Mayor."
Smothers said, "I just did."
Smothers praised the proposal.
"Just your family name brings to mind all the support and investment that you and your family have made in this city," Smothers told Haizlip. "And particularly on Washington Street. I can't imagine you doing anything to harm that area."
The Haizlip name is one to contend with in the Washington Street neighborhood. The Haizlip Funeral Home at 206 4th St. has been an anchor of the neighborhood since 1961 and was the last of a series of funeral homes run by Louis Haizlip, who started in business in 1924.
According to the application to place the Washington Street Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places, Lois Haizlip Powell started the Washington Drive Resource and Enrichment Center in 1990 and Jacquelyn Haizlip joined the Haizlip Funeral Home staff in 1994. Haizlips were also instrumental in the creation of the Memorial United Methodist Church in 1972.
Several people spoke in favor of the bar, including Harman, whose building is next door to the bar, and High Point historian Glenn Chavis.
"I think it's going to bring a diversity down to Washington Street," Harman said. "A good diversity."
Chavis said he admired Haizlip for starting a business with her own money. He said, "That's very rare on Washington Street."
Chavis also said any complaints about the bar being near the Washington Street churches – none were expressed – were pointless considering the history of the neighborhood. He said there were once four bootlegger houses near the churches, and that they coexisted. He said the bootleggers didn't operate during church hours.
Chavis said he looked forward to, for the first time in years, having somewhere to go dressed up on Washington Street. He said, "Most of you don't have any idea of what went on on Washington Street at one point."
"Yes we do," Smothers replied. "We read all your stuff."
The remaining buildings along Washington Street are snapshots of a bygone era: The Kilby Hotel and Arcade, the only pre-integration hotel for black visitors to High Point; the Ritz Theatre, which was the black counterpart to the Center Theater and the Paramount Theater downtown; and the current American Lighting building, a showroom at the corner of Washington and North Centennial streets, which once housed a shoe store and other businesses.