“We’ve been talking about this [project] for eight years,” says Lee French. “To me, it represents a generational moment of truth. It’s our chance to make a grand statement about who we are as a community.”
The project he’s referring to is Creative Corridors, an ambitious initiative which aims to add some artistic oomph to a stretch of Business 40 that’s set to close for a multiyear renovation. French, board chairman of the Creative Corridors Coalition (CCC), adds that the project could be a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
Starting next year, the North Carolina DOT will begin implementing a four-year, $90 million renovation project along a one-mile section of Business 40 through downtown. By 2018, the freeway will be completely closed from Peters Creek Parkway to U.S. 52 as crews complete the overhaul. The roadway will be repaved, entrance ramps will be lengthened or eliminated, and 11 aging bridges will be replaced. The overriding goal is to streamline traffic and improve conditions along the nearly 60-year-old highway.
Of course, all of that was going to happen with or without the Creative Corridors project, as the state is footing the bill for the basic highway improvements—all of which should be completed by 2020. But French and others realized the project presented an opportunity to make artistic enhancements along the freeway—“grand gestures,” as he calls them. And thus, the Creative Corridors Coalition was born.
Organized by the Arts Council of WS/FC and the Downtown Winston-Salem Partnership, the group held its first official meeting in 2009. “Our prevailing thought was, ‘Hey, if we’re going to spend $200 million on roadways anyway, why not build something incredible?” says French. “To me, doing nothing is unacceptable.”
After holding a number of public-input meetings, Creative Corridors decided to focus its attention on six priority projects (detailed in this article). This includes the beautification of three bridges that cross Business 40—the Peters Creek Parkway Bridge, the Green Street Bridge, and the Strollway Bridge—along with streetscape betterments along Business 40 and MLK Jr. Drive.
These betterments don’t come free, however—hence Creative Corridors’ goal to raise around $5.2 million in donations to help pay for the projects. These donations will be used in correlation with several state and federal grants as well as $3 million in bond money that city voters approved last fall.
CCC will hold a capital campaign starting this month in hopes of raising the additional $5.2 million (or so) needed to complete the project. (The project will cost around $15 million total, but $10 million of that has already been identified through public sources.)
In addition to the capital campaign, the group is talking to major donors and has already secured some: $250,000 from the John and Anna Hanes Foundation, $200,000 from the James G. Hanes Memorial Fund, and $100,000 from an anonymous donor.
Currently, the group’s three bridge designs and other beautication projects are being studied by the DOT to determine the cost delta (i.e. the differential to construct “enhanced” roads and bridges versus what a standard road or bridge would cost.) The cost estimations are based on CCC-funded engineering studies; they’ll know the actual estimates for the project later this year once state transportation officials are finished reviewing the project.
French breaks down the process step by step: “In order for this to become reality, a few things need to happen. First, the DOT will get the cost differential to build the enhanced bridges. Then they’ll present the amount to the City Council and say, ‘Here’s the cost; do you want us to build these enhanced bridges? And if so, are you going to pay us the cost difference?’ The City Council will then turn to Creative Corridors and say, ‘Are you guys willing to cover the cost differential (estimated at $5.2 million)?’ It will then be up to us to bridge the financial gap.”
State officials say they’ll need an answer soon from the city on how many of the CCC improvements to make. They have to have the designs ready for the construction bid on the project to be awarded next summer.
Excitement for the project escalated in July when Creative Corridors held a public-reveal event at Hanesbrands Theatre. In addition to unveiling the design renderings, the event gave the public a chance to meet each of the three bridge designers—Donald MacDonald, Walter Hood, and Larry Kirkland.
“In order to be taken seriously, we knew we needed to bring in world-class talent to design the bridges,” French says. “We have one chance to do these bridges right; why not bring in the best designers in the world?”
The designers were each assigned a different project. Kirkland, a public-art designer from D.C., was assigned the Peters Creek Parkway Bridge. Hood, a landscape architect from California, was assigned the Strollway Bridge. And MacDonald, an architect from San Francisco, was assigned the Green Street Bridge as well as the “Twin Arch” structure on U.S. 52. Each of the designers spent a lot of time in Winston-Salem, studying the landscape and searching for inspiration.
“When you drive though this town at 50 miles per hour, you should come away with an image,” MacDonald said. “I saw these Moravian arches everywhere … I saw [oak] trees without leaves … I saw the domed Wells Fargo building; and I said, ‘I’m going to reinforce those ideas.’”
While the three aforementioned bridges will get special treatment, the remaining eight bridges being reconstructed will have elevated design standards thanks to the CCC Master Plan. Creative Corridors is also calling for aesthetic improvements along Business 40 such as the use of brick instead of standard concrete on the retaining walls. (NOTE: A provision to the N.C. budget might eliminate around $4 million in state aid that was to be used to upgrade the appearance of noise and retaining walls along the highway. Local representatives are now in talks with state officials in hopes of re-securing the $4 million.)
The changes—both logistic and aesthetic—are sorely needed along Business 40, which was built before current freeway standards were in place. Creative Corridors worked alongside the DOT to determine which of the highway’s ramps should remain and which should be eliminated. After holding a series of public meetings, it was determined that Cherry and Marshall Street will become the main access point for downtown. The Broad Street interchange will go away, and the Peters Creek Parkway interchange will be completely redone.
“We will be living with this roadway for the next 70 or so years,” says French. “We might as well get it right. The project is about beautifying and uniting the area as a whole. We can reconnect our city in a way that we haven’t been able to since those roadways were built in the 1950s.”
When viewed as a whole, it’s easy to see why leaders at Creative Corridors think the project is such a no-brainer. It takes what’s essentially a routine paving project and turns it into a world-class statement about who we are as a city—a place of dreamers and doers; a place of cooperators and collaborators; a place that’s unquestionably the ‘city of arts and innovation.’
“It’s a once-in-a lifetime opportunity,” French concludes. “Aside from branding our community to visitors, I think the project will send a message to locals as well. It’s a symbol of what can be done if we all work together. It says, ‘Hey, if we can accomplish this large-scale, wild-eyed project, what can’t we accomplish?’”
MEET THE DESIGNERS
Donald MacDonald: One of the world’s leading bridge designers, MacDonald is best known for designing three of the nation’s most noted structures: the Cooper River Bridge in Charleston, S.C.; the San Francisco Bay Bridge; and the retrofit of the Golden Gate Bridge. He was initially hired to design the Twin Arches and later the Green Street Bridge.
Larry Kirkland: Based in D.C., Kirkland is a nationally revered public-arts designer with expertise in collaborative, multiscale installation artworks. Some of his most notable public-art projects include installations at the American Red Cross Headquarters and New York’s Penn Station. Like MacDonald, he served as a consultant on the CCC Master Plan before designing the Peters Creek Parkway Bridge.
Walter Hood: Renowned landscape designer Walter Hood was born in Charlotte and studied at NC A&T. He now runs a landscape-design firm in California and serves as a professor of landscape design at UC-Berkley. Among his award-winning projects are the MH de Young Museum in San Francisco and the Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta. He designed the Strollway “Land Bridge” for Creative Corridors.
Other key figures
Christy Turner: A landscape architect with Stimmel Associates, Winston-Salem native Christy Turner was instrumental in applying local insight and knowledge to CCC projects.
Glenn Walters: CCC hired Walters, a project manager with Design Workshop, to lead the public engagement process and to create the master plan and design guidelines.
Kristen Haaf: Kristen Haaf, an environ-mental designer, joined the CCC team last year as project manager. Her primary job is to serve as a liaison between the designers, engineers, DOT, and the CCC board.