Arts leaders see cans’ potential

Sea-cans at Centennial Station required learning curve, red tape
Jul. 07, 2013 @ 03:00 PM

Folks at the High Point Area Arts Council feel a bit smug these days.
They may have placed themselves — although unintentionally — at the leading edge of High Point’s future by installing on June 28 two sea-cans at Centennial Station, the Arts Council’s new home at 121 S. Centennial St.
Andrés Duany, an urban architect based in Miami, began studying High Point last year with the aim of suggesting improvements in key areas that would lead to the city’s revitalization. He intensified his efforts in May, and before he left town, he offered a peek at his final report, which will be delivered at the end of the summer.
One of his ideas is that High Point might distinguish itself by creating a market-district sea-can city, built from the large containers often used on sea-going cargo ships. Used singly or in combination, they could create a mini-city of shops, galleries, restaurants and meeting places. Duany suggested that the city’s red tape, which would make a sea-can city difficult to implement, might be reduced to pink tape.
Turns out, the Arts Council got the idea to use sea-cans last fall, when leaders began negotiations to purchase Centennial Station, which has little storage space. Office Manager Rhonda Snider saw sea-cans used in urban settings during her travels out West. She began researching and found a distributor in Raleigh and an upfitter in Midway.
Executive Director Debbie Lumpkins liked the idea of using the containers because Centennial Station originally was a railway freight depot, and the sea-cans could be placed at the original loading docks. She also liked the idea that cost to purchase both sea-cans, which included upfitting and painting to match the exterior of Centennial Station, was $8,840. The Arts Council previously paid $2,000 a year to rent two storage units.
Placing sea-cans outside Centennial Station permanently, however, brought the challenge of negotiating relatively unchartered territory. Most often, sea-cans are used temporarily during construction, and their use is included in construction permits.
Arts Council leaders — including Jim Morgan and Sparky Stroud, board members who have been instrumental in purchasing and upfitting Centennial Station — began researching city and state regulations required for permanent placement. The Arts Council also expects to have two more sea-cans for use by High Point Ballet and High Point Community Theatre, which also are quartered in the building.
The Arts Council hired local architect Greg Mercer to develop a site plan for placing the containers to satisfy city regulations. Leaders found out that even though one end of each container is all doors, each container had to have an additional door cut in to satisfy state safety regulations for escape in the event that the end doors are blocked.
The state code requires that each container is on a permanent foundation so it will not be moved by high winds and become a danger. City regulations require that the cans be anchored.
Each of the Arts Council’s containers weighs 5,500 pounds and measures 20-by-8-by-8.6 feet. The two cans were placed on a level area. Soon stakes will be driven into the ground; units will be strapped together; each corner will be strapped and anchored to the ground with rods, Stroud said. The straps are designed to withstand winds of 200-250 mph, and it would take winds of 130 mph to blow the units over, he said.
They have exhaust vents and will be wired for electricity extended from Centennial Station.
And that’s just the beginning, both for the Arts Council’s storage units and for anyone who might use sea-cans as units that would be occupied.
Arts Council leaders are thankful that city officials, the architect and the upfitter helped lead them through the process, and they well understand that the regulations are designed both for safety and to keep the city from being overrun with eyesores.
Lumpkins jokes — only partially — that perhaps the Arts Council’s experience will result in a set of easy-to-follow instructions others can use.
“It’s been such a learning curve. There were some things that people hadn’t done before, so it was a learning process, even for the architect,”  she said. “Maybe somebody will come up with a boom-boom-boom, this is what you need to do. You just want an easy button, and I’m sure that will come out of this. I think you’re going to see more and more creative uses for them in High Point.”
Morgan, an attorney, helped the Arts Council navigate the legalities of installing sea-cans.
“I think the city regulations have been reasonable,” Morgan said. “There are some things I would have preferred not to do, like putting in the doors, but that’s state building codes. Any time you do something new, it’s more difficult than once it’s been done, so hopefully we’ll open the door to a lot of things that have been recommended (by Duany).”
Lumpkins and Stroud found what they consider to be inconsistencies in regulations. Dumpsters, for instance, don’t have to be anchored, yet they are more likely to be affected by strong winds because they are considerably lighter than sea-cans, they said.
“It’s been tedious for us because it’s so new,” Stroud said. “I think for storage, we’ve made headway. But as far as business use, there will probably have to be a lot of studies made. I don’t think somebody is going to just pop a container down on Kivett Drive and put an ice cream shop in it. There are just too many regulations.” / 888-3601  


City uses existing regulations, for now

HIGH POINT — Current regulations for using sea-cans, whether for storage or for occupancy, are no different than regulations for other structures, according to city officials.
“Basically, they have to meet the zoning and building code. There’s no special provisions that would exempt anything like this (sea-cans),” said Bob Robbins, development services administration for the department of planning and development. “A lot is based on usage. If you’re going to put the public in, that’s different than using it as a storage container. ... The code is the code, and there’s no real distinction. ... You still have to meet the code or be altered in anyway to meet code requirements.”
The city of High Point has no authority to alter state codes, but it could change city codes by an act of High Point City Council.
“We have a little bit of flexibility there (with city codes),” said Randy McCaslin, assistant city manager. “Those codes were approved by city council, so if we found they were causing some ongoing problem, we could take it back to city council and change it, but with state building codes, we really don’t have flexibility.”
Any decision on altering city codes will come only after hearing from contracted architect Andrés Duany, who has studied High Point with the aim of revitalizing key areas.
“We’re waiting to get Duany’s recommendation, and he’s drafting the ‘pink ordinance,’ ” said City Manager Strib Boynton in reference to possible regulations that would simplify city red tape. “We’re not expecting that until later this summer, and we’re hoping he’ll provide guidance.
“We don’t want to get ahead of him. We’re looking for his professional suggestions so we do it the right way and make an informed and reasonable choice.
“Obviously, there will have to be some adjustments to our ordinances. We’re waiting to get the report, then there will be public review and discussion.
“I think it would be a real positive change to provide that alternative (sea-cans).” / 888-3601