Union Station, freshly renovated, held its grand opening just over a week ago to much fanfare. Dignitaries, accompanied by the brassy sounds of a marching band, cut the ribbon and area residents streamed in, eager to take a peek.
By all indications, they were wowed. The building sparkled like new, ready to receive one and all.
Union Station, designated a Forsyth County Historic Property, is stunning and full of charm. With an ornate lobby leading to three spacious floors, it retains many of its original architectural features with a few reproductions that are accurate to the time period. One can almost hear the train whistle through the windows. The next time George Clooney comes to town, we’ll have a wonderful movie location for him.
The story of Union Station is well known by now. Built in 1926, it served as a train station until passenger-train service ended in 1970. It was the home of Davis Garage for more than 30 years until the city decided it would make a great … something. The city bought the building in 2010 and in 2014 the City Council approved the use of limited-obligation bonds to finance its restoration, which has been a success.
So, what now?
Some $19.3 million later, the city Department of Transportation has a new headquarters on the ground floor. Nearby Winston-Salem State University may soon have some administration offices on the middle floor.
What else can be done to justify the expense? What else can be done to bring the public through the doors?
Of course, train service would be welcome. Despite stops in Charlotte, Salisbury, Greensboro and even Burlington, Amtrak passes us by. Someone needs to remedy that.
In the meantime, the city plans to give occasional tours, Damon Dequenne, the assistant city manager, told the Journal. “We are thinking once or twice a month. We are thinking about regularly scheduled tour hours where folks can come in.”
And the city is looking for a restaurant operator to occupy much of the top floor.
Being a bit off the beaten path, restaurateurs may be reluctant to commit to Union Station. But its location is actually advantageous. It’s close to the highway, adjacent to exits from the east and west. WSSU is right across the street. It’s also not far from Salem College and the UNC School of the Arts.
And it’s just to the north of Salem Lake and Quarry Park. Might it be a good place to go for a snack after a long bike ride or canoe trip? How about a gift shop? A tourism bureau? An art gallery?
Union Station is a gem, one that should be utilized and energized as a thriving destination. Surely someone in the City of Arts and Innovation will step forward, take a calculated risk and open its doors?