From parking problems to the lack of a downtown grocery store, people highlighted downtown Winston-Salem’s growing pains during a city forum for people who live and work downtown, or simply care about it.
With an open mic and some 50 people in attendance, city leaders heard about the need to care for the homeless, repave bumpy streets when the Business 40 renovation is done, and otherwise improve the quality of services downtown.
The forum was held in a meeting room at Benton Convention Center.
Real estate broker Jack Steelman kicked things off by asking the city to do more to make the 400 and 500 blocks of Trade and Liberty streets feel safer for the customers of business operators who struggle to stay in business in the area.
“The people who lease spaces there can’t stay in business,” Steelman said, noting that too many businesses find their customers reluctant to come down their blocks.
One speaker noted, to nods from many in the audience, that a greater police presence had improved the problem of over-aggressive panhandlers that arose earlier in the year.
A couple speakers appealed for people to care for the homeless and not try to push them away.
Ronnie Croxton, who ministers to the homeless, told the group that while the city does have a lot of homeless people, better efforts at getting the homeless into anger management would help.
“Homeless people are very smart,” he said. “Some are veterans, some are musicians. They have talents. A lot of the homeless people have been abused. We cannot ignore them. We have to love them.”
Lori Sykes, who lives at One Park Vista downtown, said there is a big need for temporary parking spaces so that food delivery people aren’t blocking streets and driveways downtown while they make their deliveries.
Her experience at the forum illustrates how these kinds of events work: City department leaders were posted at tables around the edge of the room, and people were directed where to go to discuss their issues in greater depth after the public comment part of the program was finished.
Sykes talked to people in the city’s transportation department, and came away saying she felt officials were listening.
“It is just a growing pain problem, being downtown,” she said.
Tracy King, who has a business on Burke Street called The Studio that specializes in makeup for those dealing with cancer, said her problem was also one of access, made worse by the traffic that is “zipping up and down Burke Street” too fast.
What the street needs is a place where people who use wheelchairs can get sidewalk access on Burke Street, she said.
Jeff Smith had a more wide-ranging concern: He said the city should commit to repaving Fourth and Fifth streets when the Business 40 renovation is done.
“When you drive Fourth Street, it is kind of like a roller coaster,” Smith said. “It is a bumpy ride.”
Jeff Fansler, the city’s assistant director of transportation, said that repairs to Fourth and Fifth streets post-Business 40 are not yet on the radar but will be.
“We will be checking,” Fansler said.
Susan Doran, who lives in the Holly Avenue neighborhood, said that with the recent addition of West End Station apartments and more to come, it is time for downtown to have a grocery store.
“I feel we have reached a tipping point,” she said.
Stephen Hawryluk, the city’s deputy budget and evaluation director, was introduced as the city official who will be the city’s point person on things downtown.
Hawryluk said that leading up to the forum, some 300 people left responses to the city on its website with comments about downtown concerns.
Parking, panhandling, traffic and road conditions were all common among the responses, he said, noting that the city gets valuable information from the feedback.
“It helps us keep people as informed as we can,” Hawryluk said.