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Flow calls for "open opportunity" culture in city

Local businessman Don Flow called for making Winston-Salem a “city of open opportunity” to go along with the city’s official Arts and Innovation appellation, during Thursday’s fall meeting of the Downtown Winston-Salem Partnership.

Flow is the driving force behind the transformation of 500 West Fifth (the old Integon building) into a site that houses startup businesses and other entrepreneurial concerns, but he said Thursday that his venture is only a part of what the city needs to be doing.

Picking up on Wednesday’s announcement of a major free-college venture for low-income high school graduates, Flow said the city needs to advance to where 80% of children are reading at grade level, and where 65 percent of high school graduates go on to get at least a two-year associate degree.

Flow cited statistics showing only 50% of third-grade children reading on grade level in the county, .

“For us to become the city we want to be, we have to attack inter-generational poverty in this city,” Flow said. “We have to embrace education as the path out of poverty.”

On Wednesday, Flow, who is chairman of the Winston-Salem Alliance, was among speakers in the announcement of the free college plan, which is being paid for from a $870,000 grant from BB&T Corp. By combining the money with federal grants and scholarships, officials hope to be able to provide training at Forsyth Technical Community College to some 2,550 high school graduates who might otherwise not be able to afford to go.

Giving an update on 500 West Fifth, Flow said that by the time the building is filled with various businesses and business-support enterprises, there will be 850 people working in the building.

Tenants of the building include the Wake Forest Center for Private Business, Winston Starts and Flywheel, companies that support startup businesses, Teall Capital, an investment company, and about 150 Flow Companies employees on the 14th through 18th floors.

Flow said he would be announcing more tenants soon for other parts of the building.

Those attending the fall meeting also got an update on plans to build a new Forsyth County Courthouse.

Plans haven’t been finalized, but architects Tom Calloway, John Drinkard and Doug Kleppin described a building that would be in two connected towers with a sunlit corridor between them giving views to the east and west.

The new courthouse will sit on a site on Chestnut Street beside the Forsyth County Government Center and near the jail, which will be connected to the courthouse with an underground tunnel, allowing prisoners to be taken directly to the courthouse. Currently, they are transported by van.

Calloway and Drinkard are with CJMW Architecture based here in Winston-Salem, while Kleppin is with CBRE Heery, a national company.

Also during the fall meeting, the Downtown Winston-Salem Partnership awarded the 2019 Glenda Keels Legacy Award to Vanessa Banner, a former city administrative assistant who, before she retired last summer, was dubbed “queen of the event permits” because she was the person that anyone who had to see to get a permit for blocking off downtown streets for events.

“She was one of the most thorough and patient people I have ever worked with,” Mary Charlotte Hinkle said in making the award. Hinkle is director of marketing and special projects for the downtown organization.

Forsyth County commissioners OK development plan for beltway interchange near Walkertown; it’s the first in what will be a series of plans

The Forsyth County Board of Commissioners approved the first in what is to be a series of plans guiding development along the interchanges of the Winston-Salem Northern Beltway on Thursday, approving a plan for the interchange of the beltway and Reidsville Road.

Commissioners approved the plan unanimously.

One of the biggest changes the U.S. 158/Northern Beltway Interchange Plan sees for the area around the Reidsville Road interchange is the creation of a commercial area to the immediate south of the interchange on the southeast side of Reidsville Road.

Much of area is now undeveloped, with farmland and residential areas nearby. The plan sees more intense development eventually coming to the area between the interchange and the intersection of Reidsville Road and Old Belews Creek road to the southwest.

To the immediate south of the commercial area would be a larger area of mixed-use development, containing both shopping and residential clusters connected with roads and sidewalks.

Although that land is now in a voluntary agricultural district, the plan does not mandate any zoning change or conversion of the land use as long as the current owners want to keep farming. As with all area plans, the plan is meant only to guide future development decisions as landowners decide to sell or develop.

“As along as they control the land, they control what happens to it,” project planner Steve Smotherman, referring to the landowners, told the commissioners during one of the presentations they heard on the plan.

The plan also recommends the eventual creation of a new road between Wakertown-Guthrie Road and William Tucker Road, which is a dead-end road off U.S. 158, that would provide access to the recommended commercial and mixed-use areas.

Most of the area included in the plan would remain for residential use. Of the 284 acres it covers, 225 acres, or slightly more than 79%, would be single-family housing.

The commercial area is only 12 acres and makes up about 4% of the land. Mixed-use development would be allowed on roughly 32 acres, or about 11% of the total area.

Although many of the plan’s features were already listed in an update to the Walkertown Area Plan that was created in 2014, the interchange plan provides more specific guidelines on how the various developed areas would look and be laid out.

To create a neighborhood feel, the plan recommends that buildings in the commercial and multiuse areas face the new internal roads, with their parking areas to the rear or side, and that the area have paths for walkers and bicyclists to use.

The walking trails would also be designed to eventually connect with a proposed Lowery Mill Creek greenway.

Lowery Mill Creek, which empties into an arm of Salem Lake, crosses north to south across the area of the interchange plan.

Proposed congressional map would join Winston-Salem with Guilford County in 6th District; send rest of Forsyth into 10th

The potential combining of Winston-Salem with all of Guilford County into one U.S. House district would mean that North Carolina’s third-, fifth- and ninth-largest cities would have just one voice in Congress, rather than the current three.

N.C. House Bill 1029, titled “Congress 2020” by its primary sponsor state Rep. David Lewis cleared the state House in Raleigh on a 55-46 party-line vote Thursday.

The N.C. Senate is expected to vote on the bill during today’s session. The bill will first be taken up at 10 a.m. in the Senate Redistricting and Elections Committee.

Redistricting maps are not subject to a potential veto by the governor. Lewis, R-Harnett, said the districts would go into effect once the law is enacted. Incumbents do not have to live in the district they represent.

The new map puts all of Winston-Salem, most of Kernersville and about half of Walkertown in the 6th District, currently represented by U.S. Rep. Mark Walker, a Republican from Greensboro now in his third term.

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The proposed map would put Clemmons, Lewisville, Rural Hall, the northern areas of Forsyth Country and the rest of Kernersville and Walkertown into the 10th District, which currently is represented by Republican U.S. Rep. Patrick McHenry. That district also would contain Rockingham, Stokes, Surry and Yadkin counties.

Asked whether he anticipates pushback on splitting Forsyth County, Lewis said the combined population of Forsyth and Guilford counties is too large to be contained in one district and too small to be in two.

“The input (during the process) was to keep Guilford whole, which the other maps did that as well,” Lewis said. “We tried to respect Winston-Salem and not split it up. I think that every county would like to be whole.

“We were told those counties like to work together.”

According to Zagros Madjd-Sadjadi, an economics professor at Winston-Salem State University, combining Winston-Salem with all of Guilford County “will likely make the urban Triad voice in Washington weaker rather than stronger, because there would no longer be three representatives speaking with a common voice.”

“On the other hand, it may strengthen the voice of the more rural parts of Forsyth that are left out of the combined district,” Madjd-Sadjadi noted.

Forsyth County is currently represented in the U.S. House by Republican Virginia Foxx of Banner Elk, 5th District, while Guilford County is represented by Walker, 6th District, covering Greensboro; and U.S. Rep. Ted Budd from Davie County, whose 13th District covers High Point.

“I love the people of NC and I will keep fighting for them — no matter what liberal attorneys, judicial activists and politicians in Raleigh do in self-interest,” Walker wrote in a Twitter post.

“My promise of people over politics is undeterred. We’ll continue to serve our constituents wherever the trail leads,” he said.

Foxx and Budd could not be immediately reached for comment about the proposed redistricting affects their seats.

Foxx would remain in the 5th District, which would stretch from Alleghany, Ashe, Watauga and Wilkes counties in the north to Cleveland and Gaston counties to the south.

Alamance, Davidson, Davie and Rowan would be in the 13th District.

There were several amendments submitted in the state House redistricting committee and on House floor that were voted down, mostly along party lines.

One amendment would have put all of Forsyth County into the redrawn 9th District, along with Chatham, Davidson, Davie and Randolph counties.

Reliably Republican no more?

Rural voters have made the 5th and 6th congressional districts among the most reliable Republican seats in North Carolina over the past 35 years.

However, given recent voting trends in Forsyth and Guilford counties, it is likely the redrawn 6th District could lean Democratic in the 2020 general election.

In the 2018 congressional races affecting Forsyth and Guilford, there were a combined 196,238 votes cast for Democratic candidates DD Adams (77,054, 5th District), Ryan Watts (38,402, 6th District) and Kathy Manning (80,782, 13th District), and a combined 138,832 for Foxx (60,303), Walker (31,956) and Budd (46,573).

That reality could spur the same Democrats to run again in 2020 or attract new candidates encouraged by the potential Democratic lean.

Angela Flynn is the only announced 2020 Democratic candidate for the 6th District seat, while there is no declared Democratic candidate for the 5th District.

“If the 6th District ends up looking the way it does in the map currently being discussed in the legislature, we can expect a contest in the Democratic primary between some candidates with an electoral base in Greensboro and other candidates with an electoral base in Winston-Salem,” said John Dinan, a political science professor at Wake Forest University and a national expert on state legislatures.

“But there’s no telling which of these types of candidates would prevail in the Democratic primary and likely the general election,” Dinan said.

“This depends on a lot of factors other than simply the population size of the cities and counties.”

Guilford or Forsyth?

There already has been some concern expressed that because there were more Democratic voters in Guilford than Forsyth in 2018, the likely 6th District Democratic nominee would come from Guilford.

Of course, Forsyth has not had a hometown congressional representative since Foxx’s first term began in 2005.

Richard Burr of Winston-Salem served five terms in the seat before successfully running for the U.S. Senate in 2004.

The last Democrat to hold the 5th District seat was Stephen Neal, who served for 10 terms before retiring in 1995.

You have to go back another 10 years beyond Neal to get to the last Democratic to hold the 6th District seat, which was Robin Britt, who served one term in 1983-84.

Mitch Kokai, senior policy analyst with the John Locke Foundation, a conservative-leaning research group, said that with just one U.S. House representative, “it’s clearer for constituents whom they should contact when they have questions or concerns.”

“If a community has multiple representatives from both major parties — pushing for the same goal — that can help ensure that the issue will get a fair hearing on Capitol Hill regardless of which party controls the U.S. House,” Kokai said.

Why new districts?

The map is part of a specially called legislative session, which began Wednesday, focused on redistricting.

The session was called after state judges ruled in October that the current congressional maps can’t be used because of likely partisan gerrymandering.

The judges encouraged legislators to redraw the congressional districts to avoid delaying the March 3 congressional primaries. The State Board of Elections said it needs a congressional redistricting map by mid-December.

Analysts have said the Congress 2020 map could shift the state’s congressional districts from 10-3 Republican to potentially 8-5.

Lewis said during floor debate Thursday that some people believe fair redistricting is “six districts (set for) a ‘D,’ six districts (set for) an ‘R’ and one that’s 50-50.”

N.C. House Minority leader Darren Jackson, D-Wake, said during the House floor debate that this is “a solid 8 to 5 map ... but still gerrymandered that makes other districts less competitive.”

“D.C. would work so much better if the House representatives were not guaranteed re-election” from this map,” Jackson said.

Kokai said the Winston-Salem/Guilford redrawn congressional seat is part of the challenge of legislators being “forced in this case to split the state’s 2010 U.S. census population into 13 equal-sized districts of almost 800,000 people.”

“Unless someone offers compelling proof that legislative leaders concocted a more elaborate scheme, I accept the simple explanation that these districts resulted from their efforts — north to south rather than east to west in some instances — ... to construct reasonably compact districts that complied with all other court directives,” he said.

Compact Democratic districts

Madjd-Sadjadi said establishing a compact 6th District with Winston-Salem and Guilford, as is being done with a redrawn 12th District for Mecklenburg County and 2nd District for Wake County, “might be seen as the easiest pathway to defend the proposal since this is in line with what the (state) courts have insisted is needed.”

“While Walker’s seat is likely to flip to the Democrats and Rep. George Holding’s seat (2nd District) is now in danger for the Republicans, they are both still winnable in a similar way to the 9th District currently held by Dan Bishop — a third district I would say might flip,” Madjd-Sadjadi said.

“Republicans will have to pick and choose their battles, however, if we go into recession in the run-up to the 2020 election.”

Lewis said having Davie and Rowan in a nine-county district with Caswell and Person was done in part because much of the proposed 13th District contains primarily rural areas.

Whenever a congressional district is drawn to include a range of different localities and communities, “this can lead to a contest between candidates with electoral bases in different communities in the district,” Dinan said.

“We saw this with an earlier version of the 12th District in the 2010s after Mel Watt left office when the district included parts of the Triad and also Charlotte,” Dinan said.

“This led Democratic candidates with bases in these two areas to compete against each other for dominance.”

Opening Business 40 by Dec. 31 would give contractors their biggest possible payday

Contractors working on the Business 40 renovation in downtown Winston-Salem can maximize their incentives by getting the freeway open to traffic by Dec. 31, a state highway engineer said Thursday.

Pat Ivey, the division engineer for the N.C. Department of Transportation here, said current construction estimates show that Brookstown Avenue could reopen under a new Business 40 overpass by Thanksgiving or so, with the opening of the new Cherry Street bridge in early December, and the opening of the new Marshall Street bridge later in the month, or in early 2020.

Business 40 has been closed downtown since Nov. 17, 2018, for a $100-million renovation that will give the downtown freeway longer merging and exit ramps, higher bridge clearances and, possibly, a 55-mph speed limit.

Flatiron Constructors Inc. and Blythe Development Co. are the main contractors on the project, along with HDR Engineering Inc.

Ivey said all the timelines depend on the weather cooperating, but noted the cold weather the city is experiencing is not helping any plans to beat the Dec. 31 date for a maximum contractor payday.

“This is mid-November,” Ivey said. “I believe the chances have diminished significantly because of the weather.”

Workers can’t pave with asphalt when it is as cold as it has been in recent days, Ivey said.

If the contractors don’t have the cars moving by Dec. 31, there’s no single magic date after that, Ivey said, since the incentives “decrease the longer they go.”

While not willing to promise a date should roadwork go into the new year, Ivey sounded optimistic that people won’t have that long to wait.

“A lot depends on how much is done over the next six to eight weeks,” Ivey said. “We certainly want it open sooner rather than later. Certainly they (the contractors) would like to get it done if not at the end of the year, than immediately after the start of the year.”

Originally planned as a two-year closure, highway officials have worked with the contractors since the contract was awarded to dramatically shorten the time frame.

In the summer of 2018, before the closure, highway officials announced a 17-month closure for construction, a schedule that would put the road open around April of 2020. At the same time, highway officials said the incentives program could shorten the closure to only 14 to 15 months.

Then, Mayor Allen Joines got a buzz stirring last February when he said during a television interview that Business 40 could open by Christmas this year.

Highway officials responded by saying Joines was looking at a very-best-case scenario.

Ivey suggested Thursday that the very best case has slipped some, although he’s not ruling anything out.

“Based on the weather, we don’t know how good the chances are” to get traffic moving on the new road by the end of the year, Ivey said. “The big concern right now is the asphalt work.”