Council settles on core city priorities

Jan. 31, 2014 @ 10:32 AM

When it comes to its priorities for High Point’s urban core, the City Council wants to pursue more than a “street diet.”
Much of the focus on core city revitalization in recent months has been on the centerpiece of the Ignite High Point master plan: reducing a portion of N. Main Street from four to two lanes through Uptowne.
The council last weekend gave the green light to studying this concept, but also expanded its list to four other core city topics for further study and, council members hope, eventual funding.
“Everybody had one or two items they felt strongly about, and I think the five were a compromise in order to get the dieting study in,” said Councilman Jeff Golden, who successfully lobbied his colleagues to have Washington Street included among the priorities.
The council directed staff to design and prepare a budget for landscaping and “decorative lighting” along Washington Street, as well as other possible improvements, such as bus shelters and street furniture.
Golden, who represents the Washington Street area, said he wants to see more public investment along the lines of what is envisioned in a master plan for the neighborhood adopted by the city in 2008. 
“I don’t think landscaping alone is going to satisfy that community. There have been promises made,” he said. “I would like to see how much of that original plan is going to be implemented.”
Golden said the need for more lighting along the street is one concern he hears from constituents.
Councilwoman Becky Smothers said Washington Street is an example of a core city priority that pre-dates the Duany Plater-Zyberk plan.
“The fact is, lately, all the discussion publicly has seemed to focus on Uptowne,” said Smothers. “We did a Washington Street plan before anybody ever heard about Duany.”
Another priority is to improve the look of part of the Southside, or SoSi, district along S. Main Street from Business 85 to the Guilford Technical Community College High Point campus.
Landscaping along the public right of way of S. Main Street is one idea that’s been suggested.
“Anybody that’s driven down South Main Street knows we need to do something there. It looks terrible, and it’s one of the busiest entryways into our community,” said Councilwoman Judy Mendenhall.
The city needs to give the S. Main Street corridor the type of attention it devoted to improving E. Kivett Drive in past years, Mendenhall argued.
“I’m not suggesting we put medians down Main Street or anything else, but certainly some benches, plantings and there have been dollars spent on facade improvements as well,” she said. “Just to kind of make it look like this city cares about one of the largest entrance ways into its downtown.”
The other two priorities are the “library square” project and development of “the pit” area as public gathering spaces as suggested in the Duany plan.
City staffers are working on plans for development of both, along with cost estimates.
Smothers said she thinks the city could use $5.7 million in two-thirds bonds for at least some of the five priorities. The bonds were issued in 2012 for downtown improvements and streetscaping. The money was initially slated for overhead power line burials along N. Main Street through Uptowne, but that project has not gone forward.
“(The bond funding is) framed for downtown; it could encompass some of that,” said Smothers. “Certainly, the pit and, I think, Washington Street would be considered part of downtown.”