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Tipping point

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By Todd Cohen

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Plans for a $44 million revival of a largely abandoned neighborhood in Northeast Winston-Salem that once served as the city’s black business district are gaining momentum, thanks to an $8.8 million federal grant to build 79 apartments for low-income seniors.

The grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development could provide the “tipping point” to spark redevelopment of the neighborhood, now home mainly to warehouses, factories and surface parking lots, says Michael Suggs, chairman of the Goler-Depot Renaissance Corp., a nonprofit group that has acquired and is developing 10 acres in the area.

Formed in 1998 by Goler Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church, the nonprofit teamed up with the North Carolina Housing Foundation, a Winston-Salem developer of affordable housing, to compete for the HUD grant with other metropolitan counties in the state.

The two developers have formed a third nonprofit, Goler Place Inc., to develop, own and manage the new housing for seniors.

Chaired by Suggs, Goler Place has hired architecture firm Walter Robbs Callahan & Pierce in Winston-Salem and Weaver-Cooke Construction Co. in Greensboro to design and build the new complex, with construction set to begin next year and be completed in 2006.

The new six-story building is the lynchpin for the “New Town in Town,” a plan by Goler-Depot Renaissance that also aims to renovate for residential and commercial use the 145,000-square-foot former Brown & Williamson Tobacco factory built in the 1940s and now known as the Goler Community Building.

The developer also plans to demolish two apartment buildings with 28 units it owns at Patterson Avenue and Martin Luther King Boulevard and replace them with a new building of 100 or more residential units, some to be sold, others rented.

And the group is talking to a commercial developer about creating a business on nearly one acre it owns at Martin Luther King Boulevard and Liberty Street, while Goler Memorial plans a separate project of roughly $2 million to build a new sanctuary and enrichment center, and convert into a cultural center the sanctuary in its 118-year-old church.

“What we’re trying to do is recreate this neighborhood, not only as a residential area, but also as a commercial center that offers a lot of the things people look for when they decide to relocate to a neighborhood,” says Suggs, who is working full-time as a volunteer after taking early retirement one year ago from R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., where he was senior director of public affairs.

Goler-Depot Renaissance already has developed a four-unit townhouse duplex on Chestnut Street near the former tobacco factory and a block from the planned seniors complex.

The residential developments are critical to the overall project, which aims to create a link to downtown, says Perry Craven, a consultant to Goler Place.

“That linkage is important for people to continue to recognize,” she says. “People who work downtown can live in Goler Heights.”

The Housing Foundation, which was formed in 1967 and has secured more than $55 million to develop more than 1,000 units of low-income housing throughout the state has just completed a 60-bed assisted-living facility and is beginning construction of a 12-unit apartment complex for physically-handicapped people, both on Fifth Street in East Winston-Salem, says Sandra Jennings, president of the N.C. Housing Services and Management Corp., a nonprofit that manages housing for the foundation.

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