OFF THE DRAWING BOARD

City taking first steps to implement urban architect’s recommendations
Jun. 22, 2013 @ 03:00 PM

The public may not be able to see evidence of it yet, but some of the ideas championed during the Ignite High Point initiative last month are beginning to move from the abstract to the real.
High Point officials, along with representatives of The City Project, say they want to make sure the momentum generated by the revitalization ideas of Miami-based urban architect Andres Duany and his team of planners, engineers and other professionals isn’t lost.
“(City) Council and the (city) manager have been very cooperative in trying to help us move this thing forward,” said Aaron Clinard, immediate past chairman of The City Project, the city-funded nonprofit that is charged with revitalizing older neighborhoods.
The group raised nearly $400,000 to hire Duany and his team to produce a master plan for three parts of the city: Uptowne, the High Point University area and the furniture market district.
The final plan is not finished yet, but three general priorities have been identified for further steps:
• Converting “the pit” — a vacant parking lot on W. High Avenue across from the High Point Depot — into a usable space for public events.
• “Dieting” a portion of N. Main Street to one lane of traffic in each direction to convert it from a thoroughfare to a “neighborhood street.”
• Landscaping the area in front of the High Point Neal F. Austin Public Library into a public gathering place.  
City officials stress that they haven’t committed to any of these ideas.
They are gathering information about what would be required for each project to be included in requests for proposals to be sent out to firms that could do the work. The responses would give a clearer picture of the construction costs of any projects, which is where the bulk of the expense to the city would lie. They plan to report their progress to council in July.
“Everybody has been supportive, but now let’s see what the details are, because the details are going to be where the cost is going to be,” said City Manager Strib Boynton.
The most substantive development to date is a decision by city officials to engage the services of High Point architect Peter Freeman to develop a schematic design for the pit at a cost of $15,000. The money is coming out of city funds already budgeted for The City Project, so no additional expenditures are required.
The area, most of which is owned by the city, drew attention during Duany’s visit as a potential spot for parties and other types of gatherings to draw more activity downtown.
“We want to get an idea of what it could look like and what it might cost,” said Councilwoman Judy Mendenhall. “Assuming that it’s safe, lighting would probably help that situation. It needs to be cleaned up. Obviously, it’s not the most attractive part of the city. But, with a little effort, it could probably be made to be an attractive area.”
Clinard said making the pit a central point for events could be one way to lure more young people to High Point, a key goal of the Duany initiative. About 10 artists and creative professionals have been invited to work with Freeman on potential designs for the area.
“I just think Duany was such a visionary in so many ways, and none of us had ever paid any attention to that site location. Here it is, city-owned, that has great potential,” he said.
City Project Executive Director Wendy Fuscoe said the idea of the library redesign would be “to green it up. Basically, to make it more of a gathering place where, for example, we could have the beach blast, where we could have Uptowne events. Right now, we’re putting them in parking lots — not the most attractive of meeting areas or gathering areas. So this would be civic gathering area for Uptowne.”