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Wake Forest completes $10 million purchase of Winston-Salem First property

Wake Forest University has spent $10 million to buy the high-profile site of the Winston Salem First church and its school on University Parkway.

The university and the church reached an agreement in January 2019 on the transaction, which was completed Monday.

Senior pastor Mike Rakes said the sale both “launches our shared governance structure and various committees to begin their work ... and begins the clock ticking on determining our new location in Winston-Salem.”

Rakes said resolving some infrastructure issues was the main reason for delaying completion of the sale.

The purchase involves 12 tracts with a combined 17.22 acres, foremost the land where the worship center is located at 3730 University Parkway, and a 5.12-acre site identified as a soccer complex.

The rest of the transaction involves most, but not all, of the parking lots surrounding the church and school.

Wake Forest repeated Monday what it said in January 2019 — that it didn’t have immediate plans for the property, which would be included in “future master planning efforts.”

“It was important for us to be thorough, and the sale has now been finalized,” Wake Forest spokeswoman Cheryl Walker said. “The university has been glad to partner with Winston-Salem First during this transition as they plan for the future.”

The church approached the university about acquiring the property in late 2018 as part of its decision to relocate within three to five years to a site closer to downtown Winston-Salem.

“We are building a campus for the whole city,” the church said in a posting on its website.

“A church/campus that connects people to God’s presence and purpose. We are serving a God who will do beyond what we can imagine. We are not just raising money for a worship facility, but rather a campus designed to meet the unique needs of our church and this community.”

Rakes said the church has spoken with a local real estate agent about options.

“We have areas on our radar, but we’re all praying at this point on where to go next,” Rakes said.

Rakes said the church is considering both renovating an existing facility and building from scratch.

The primary goal is building a meeting center that will seat between 700 and 1,100. The church membership is about 1,750, which Rakes said has held steady for the 13 years that he has served as senior pastor.

There also are plans for what he called outdoor play areas for church members that would be available to the public, and an indoor gathering space for coffee and church services.

“The sale represents the culmination of a five-year process to expand and innovate our ministry efforts for the next 70 years, while contributing to the innovation growing in downtown,” Rakes said.

“We are very open, no matter where we move, to partnering with other downtown churches on meeting the needs of our community.”

The purchase agreement follows Wake Forest land acquisitions around its campus that occurred in December 2018.

Surging demand for student housing led Wake Forest in December 2018 to spend $28.42 million to buy a nearby residential complex.

The university purchased Deacon Place, which opened in the spring of 2017 at 2410 Whicker Acres Lane. It is about three football fields from the Polo Road entrance to the campus.

The gated community consists of 146,448 square feet in six buildings containing 328 beds, including fully furnished four-bedroom suites and five townhouses in 1,500- and 1,800-square-foot options.

Wake Forest also spent $594,500 to buy the properties at 1021 and 1031 Polo Road. The 1021 Polo site is 0.95 acre with two buildings and a combined 3,359 square feet of living space. The 1031 Polo Road site is 0.95 acre with two buildings and a combined 4,484 square feet of living space.

Winston-Salem Christian School, previously affiliated with Winston-Salem First, announced Dec. 19 it had purchased property at 3665 N. Patterson Ave. That transaction involved six tracts for a combined $1.95 million.

Winston-Salem Christian plans to move into the site of the former Woodland Baptist Church and Woodland School at the beginning of the 2020-21 school year, marking its 41st year in existence.

The school has to vacate its current building at the end of the current school year when its lease with Wake Forest expires.

Winston-Salem Christian School has a fundraising goal of $1.5 million in order to pay for renovations to the HVAC system, flooring, plumbing, and computer and phone systems, as well as security systems at the North Patterson location, according to Head of School Bryan Wolfe.

In the immediate future, the school is in need of $300,000 to ensure its new building is ready for students in August.

Ardmore church, neighborhood clash over plan for parking

A church that occupies a landmark former school building in the Ardmore neighborhood and its residential neighbors are at odds over a rezoning that’s related to the church’s effort to gain more parking and better access for elderly and disabled members.

Church advocates and the city’s planning staff say the site plan and restrictions that Redeemer Presbyterian Church has agreed to should actually be an improvement.

But the Ardmore Neighborhood Association opposes the rezoning, and its president, Robert Newman, recently told the City-County Planning Board that his group will “fight for every inch of Ardmore to keep all aspects of its remaining zoned area residential.”

The Winston-Salem City Council heard pros and cons Monday night, but postponed action until Feb. 3, when a public hearing will continue followed by possible council action.

Dan Besse, the council member who represents Ardmore in the Southwest Ward, said he’s hopeful the church and neighborhood can continue talking and maybe reach an agreement.

Redeemer Presbyterian Church bought the former Ardmore School building on Miller Street in 1987 and began renovations to turn it into a house of worship. Many people in Ardmore welcomed the church because the former school was a neighborhood focal point.

The houses at the center of the rezoning controversy are at 1030 and 1036 Miller St. to the north of the church, plus the rear (south side) of a property at 925 S. Hawthorne Road that the church owns.

The church wants to change the zoning on those properties from residential to institutional, although the appearance of the houses would not change. The houses have been used for years by the church as classroom space.

The change would allow the church to extend the parking lot on the north side of the church, which is reached from Miller Street. The church would gain 16 additional spaces and a better way for elderly people to get access to the church.

The west end of the parking lot extension would have a short drive connecting it to the existing parking lot on the west side of the church. The driveway from Miller Street would become one-way and make traffic flow safer, church officials argued.

Ardmore resident Julie Magness, speaking against the rezoning, said she has concerns that the drive connecting the parking lots could bring in more traffic and that the bigger parking lot could be the scene of illicit activity when the church is not in session.

“I also feel that sometimes when a neighborhood church needs to expand and grab up so much residential property, they have outgrown their site,” she said.

The church bought the Miller Street properties in 2000 and the Hawthorne Street one in 2015. The house at 1036 Miller St. is considered a contributing structure to the Ardmore Historic District, as is the house at 925 S. Hawthorne, which is not included in the rezoning request.

Church officials said during their Dec. 12 appearance before the planning board that it was possible the driveways would need to be removed at the two residential houses on Miller Street owned by the church, but that drew concerns from neighbors that the loss of the driveway would take away from the residential character of that part of the street.

Monday, Paul Fidishun, a landscape architect for MLA Design Group, told the city council that it has been determined that the driveways can stay. And Fidishun stressed that the parking lot drive would be one-way leading away from Miller Street.

Church elder Rob Alexander told council members Monday night that the church is not increasing its seating and that the extra parking spaces would take cars off Miller Street. If the church does grow, he said, it would open new churches on other sites and not expand the existing one.

Aaron King, the city-county planning director, said Monday that under present zoning, the church could easily tear down the houses that it owns near the church.

With the site plan that would come along with the rezoning, King said, the church would have to come back to the council and get a change in the plan if it wanted to remove the houses.

Council Member Jeff MacIntosh suggested that if the church-owned houses fell into neglect, the church could come back later and say they needed to be torn down for that reason.

In other action:

  • The council voted 6-1 to close the portion of Brookstown Avenue between Second and Broad streets, an action that was expected after last November’s council action to approve the site plan for a proposed 300-unit apartment complex called The Easley that will be in sight of the BB&T Ballpark.

Council Member John Larson cast the only vote against the closure, complaining that the city had “put the cart before the horse” by approving the site plan first.

Developers are proposing a pedestrian and biking path across the property that would link the disconnected parts of Brookstown Avenue post-closure.

Scott Sexton: Tattered flags at Benton Convention Center finally replaced

In an entire universe filled with problems and issues — real or imagined, external or self-inflicted — the condition of the flags on display outside the Benton Convention Center surely falls far down the list.

Little kids go to bed hungry, grown men shiver in cardboard “shelters” in the woods or under bridges and women are treated like punching bags in their own homes.

In Raleigh, the honorables can’t manage to enact an official state budget. And in Washington, where alleged grown-ups have been entrusted with the nation’s care, we stand on the cusp of a shooting war.

Obviously there are bigger concerns in the wide, wide world than a few pieces of cloth — the U.S., state and city flags — flowing in the breeze outside the Benton Convention Center

Still, it was dismaying to look at a public building described as the city’s “living room” — and see the most visible symbol of the nation (and state) ripped, frayed and growing worse by the day.

Surely someone would notice.

‘Visual impact’

Since its construction in 1969, the Benton Convention Center has been a key piece of the city’s efforts to attract conventions — and conventioneers — who drop big dollars in local pockets.

By some estimates, primarily calculated by those with an interest in attracting visitors and out-of-town gold cards, conventions bring as many as 100,000 attendees who fill some 25,000 hotel rooms and inject $30 million into the local economy.

That’s not chump change, and wise heads work to protect it.

That’s part of the reason why city officials in 2014 approved spending some $17.5 million to overhaul, modernize and refurbish the old Benton.

No question it needed extensive alterations in both appearance and function in order to compete.

And so it was that an outfit out of Chapel Hill called Resolute Building was awarded a contract in 2016 to begin work.

“The visual impact is paramount,” Jim Keller, the general manager of the Twin City Quarter, which manages the convention center,said in 2016. “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”

Changes to the exterior, landscaping, entry way and façade were completed. Lighting, carpets, paint and other interior features were enhanced, as well as upgrades to faster, more modern, wireless electronic communications.

“When we set out to do this … we knew we had to do something to this asset that brings extensive revenue to Winston-Salem,” Council Member D.D. Adams told fellow council members in 2016. “We are now competing with the big time. People take things in with their eyes.”

Yes, we do.

So it was sometime in the late fall — I can’t remember precisely when — I started noticing the conditions of the flags on the Benton’s western edge.

Not an act of protest

A tear developed in one of the red stripes at the top of the U.S. flag. So, too, did a rip in the North Carolina flag.

That one was along its bottom in the wide, white strip bordering the canton — the blue side with the block letters NC.

Over a period of days, weeks even, the tears grew larger. The state flag tore nearly in half, and an entire red stripe of the American flag eventually flapped wildly in the wind independent of the others.

A small thing, but still, it was a shame. And no one with the ability to do something about it seemed to notice.

Americans are free to burn or destroy the flag. Unpleasant and disrespectful, but free speech nonetheless. I wouldn’t do it, but you can.

But letting the flag fall into disrepair through neglect is different. That’s sloppy, not an act of protest.

Just when I’d gotten tired of waiting for someone in officialdom to act, a curious — and awesome — thing happened. A few days before Christmas, seemingly out of nowhere, the old and damaged flags were replaced.

A week or so earlier, Billy Rich, an attentive citizen and a member of the city’s Public Assembly Facilities Commission, contacted an assistant city manager. Rich even included photos.

Problem solved.

“I noticed the flags when leaving the Journal building on Marshall Street one day,” Rich, a retired city employee, wrote in an e-mail when asked about it. “I took pictures of them and sent them to (Ben Rowe, an assistant city manager).

“The convention center is the living room of our city. I felt we needed some new curtains.”

Bond set at $2 million in murder case. Prosecutor alleges defendant shot man in the head while the man was on his knees.

A Forsyth County judge on Monday set a $2 million bond for a Winston-Salem man accused of shooting a man to death in 2018.

Antione Rashad Majett, 21, of the 4300 block of Moat Drive, was indicted in October 2019 on one count of second-degree murder. Forsyth County prosecutors allege Majett fatally shot Ramiro Marin Mendoza on Feb. 13, 2018.

Majett had been held without bond at the Forsyth County Jail, and his attorney, Dan Anthony, asked that the bond be set at $100,000. Assistant District Attorney Ben White requested the bond be set at $5 million.

In Forsyth Superior Court, White told Judge David Hall that Majett used an assault rifle to shoot Mendoza in the head. Mendoza was on his knees and in the middle of Mount Vernon Road when he was shot to death, White said.

That detail caused members of Mendoza’s family, who were seated in the second row of the courtroom, to collapse in tears.

White said Majett also appeared in a rap music video in which he held a similar assault rifle as the one that was used to kill Mendoza.

White said Majett represents a danger to the community because the murder involved firearms and he has previous convictions of carrying a concealed weapon.

Anthony said Majett grew up in Winston-Salem, graduating from Carver High School. He has a one-year-old daughter and has taken online classes to work toward getting a business administration degree. He also has worked to provide for his family, including his grandmother, who recently had surgery, Anthony said.

According to search warrants, witnesses told Winston-Salem police detectives that they saw Majett and two other men get Mendoza out of a car and made Mendoza lie down in the middle of the street. The witnesses said they saw Majett shoot Mendoza in the head.

Hall decided to set the bond at $2 million.

White officially provided a plea offer that would allow Majett to plead guilty to second-degree murder. If Majett rejects that offer, White said he would be seeking an indictment for first-degree murder.

Majett is scheduled to appear in Forsyth Superior Court on March 2.