Garden Court Apartments

Dozens of units at Garden Court Apartments are boarded up, and demolition has begun on the buildings.

An eight-unit apartment building facing East Fifth Street east of U.S. 52 was demolished this week, but it doesn’t signal the start of a redevelopment effort planned in that section of Winston-Salem.

Not yet, anyway.

A corporation formed from United Metropolitan Missionary Baptist Church is leasing many of the units at Garden Court Apartments in the blocks to the east and south of the church, and it plans to spearhead the redevelopment of the area in line with what is called the East End Master Plan, said Joe Crocker.

Crocker is a board member and manager of First West End LLC, a corporation formed from the church to do the redevelopment, according to Crocker. The church is a large African American congregation.

And while many people are wondering what the recent demolition signals, Crocker said that for now it only means that a fire-damaged building has been taken down.

First West End is still discussing future plans with potential development partners, Crocker said, adding that for now there is no timetable for moving forward on the plan.

“We are tearing down a unit that has been burned, for safety’s sake and insurance purposes,” Crocker said.

The units in the area leased by First West End are owned by National Investors of the Triad LLC, and many of them are boarded up. Crocker said that as units are vacated they are being boarded up, but that future plans are still in development.

Plans are “very preliminary,” Crocker said. “We are in the middle of discussing the project with various developers. I have no time frame at this point.”

Robyn Hall, who once lived in the building that was torn down, said she left her former home a week ago.

Hall said she was sad to lose a place to live that she could afford. She and her brother, Larry Hall, who still lives in one of the buildings, said they worry that the redevelopment may cause rents to go up.

Larry Hall said he pays $350 a month, but that a renovated unit in his building goes for $660 per month. Crocker would not confirm the rent amounts, citing tenant privacy concerns.

People in eastern Winston-Salem and other areas close to downtown have frequently expressed concern over the prospect of gentrification in recent years. Gentrification refers to the practice of acquiring housing in lower-income neighborhoods and converting it into more expensive housing for people who make more money.

The East End Master Plan, adopted by the Winston-Salem City Council last fall, has as its stated goal the spurring of more housing and economic development of the area, which is right beside the Wake Forest Innovation Quarter.

At the same time, the plan calls for development that doesn’t come at the expense of the neighborhood.

Specifically, the plan calls for mainly mixed-income housing in the area the church is leasing. The plan said the area should attract “a healthy diversity of new residents” while maintaining affordable housing choices for the people who live in the neighborhood now.

City Council Member Annette Scippio, who represents the East Ward, where the apartments are located, said she sees the church’s effort as part of a trend of new investment coming forward.

“A lot of it is coming from our own people, African Americans specifically,” Scippio said. “And that is a good thing. There is a new spirit, a new revitalization and a new interest in redeveloping our neighborhood again.”

Although Crocker said exact plans are not yet in place for the church-formed corporation’s part of the effort, they will be drawn following the guidelines of the city’s plan.

“We are going to do the best we can to comply with the East End plans,” Crocker said.

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wyoung@wsjournal.com 336-727-7369 @wyoungWSJ

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