Ignite High Point: Planning a New Downtown
For ten days in May, a series of community charrettes was held in High Point to help design the downtown of the future. The City Project has resulted in a program called "Ignite High Point."
If you're not familiar with the term, a charrette is a period of planning and design activity. Designer and planners met with community members to focus on areas where improvement was needed. Richard Wood is the Board Chairman of The City Project... which organized the charrettes.
"The Core Cities study was done about five years ago, I suppose, and out of that came The City Project, and we’ve identified several different areas of High Point that we want to work on," Wood explains. "Our top three priorities are the Washington Street area, the south side, down around GTCC, on South Main, and what we’re calling 'Uptown,' which we consider to be the new 'Downtown' of High Point."
High Point has a unique feature... the twice-a-year Furniture Market, which brings tens of thousands to the city. It's a good thing, to be sure... but Wood says there's a downside as well. "You’re talking about 80,000 people coming to town twice a year. The community rises up, people rent their homes, they rent rooms, caterers rise up, transportation, and we service these 80,000 visitors for ten days or so twice a year, then everybody goes back into the woodwork, doing what they do."
And as the town empties of visitors, the showrooms empty out as well. Wood says, "For instance, all of our downtown businesses, our downtown storefronts, are rented, but they’re dark, basically, 11 months a year because they’re rented for showrooms. Well, the people who own the real estate aren’t unhappy with it; they’re getting their income from the real estate. But the community has kind of driven the local retail out of downtown, and we’re just trying to find a way to get people back into town."
The city has already moved forward with several ideas suggested during the discussions... Re-design and reconstruction of the Traffic Island at Lindsay and Elm Streets is already in progress... “Dieting” Main Street, to slow down traffic and make it more pedestrian-friendly will also be examined. Even a trolley system for Main Street has been suggested, as well as a proposal to create a “green” space in the Library Point Parking lot, effectively connecting the library to the Uptowne District.
City Council also approved $15,000 to prepare schematic drawings to create an urban gathering spot for special events.