Residents worry council will back off plan to redevelop train station

A delegation of East Winston residents urged Winston-Salem City Council on Monday to press forward with the redevelopment of Union Station by condemning the Davis Garage.

“There is still an unjust behavior in the city’s treatment of black people,” community leader Marva Reid said. “We ask that the city stop this pattern of unjust behavior and allow us to keep our train station.” She added that the city has torn down parts of predominantly black east Winston-Salem while redeveloping white areas on the west side of the city.

Mayor Allen Joines cautioned council members that the city was actively engaged in litigation over the fate of the property and that they should not comment on the matter. The council went into closed session to discuss the lawsuit, which pits the city against garage owner Harvey L. Davis and to discuss a possible economic incentives deal. The council took no action on the matter after returning from closed session to adjourn the meeting.  

“Winston-Salem State University has grown tremendously, and we would benefit by having a train station because you currently have to go to Greensboro to catch the train,” said Manderline Scales, a retired educator at the university. “That would be a golden opportunity for jobs and business.” Others suggested opening a “Gaines Gallery” honoring the late WSSU basketball coach Clarence “Big House” Gaines that would feature photographs of players who went on to prominence, and retail shops. The property is directly across Martin Luther King Jr. Drive from the university. 

Councilman Dan Besse, who represents the Southwest Ward, has said that Winston-Salem is the largest North Carolina city without passenger rail service. 

Reid said that Councilman Derwin Montgomery, who represents the East Ward, told residents that the council is split on whether to follow through with condemnation of the property and some are considering finding a different location for a future train station. Montgomery was not present for the meeting and could not be reached for this story. 

The city received a $1.3 million grant from the federal government in 2004 to redevelop the former train station. The council voted in 2005 to acquire the property by deed or condemnation. 

In other news, the council voted unanimously to designate RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company Factory Complex 64 as a local historical landmark. The status allows the property owner to apply for a 50 percent tax break as long as the historic features of the building, a hulking complex at 500 E. 5th St. at the east end of downtown, are retained. 

“RJ Reynolds was known for its almost complete dependence on African-American labor,” LeAnn Pegram, historic resource officer for the Historic Resources Commission, told council. “RJ Reynolds would send trains to eastern North Carolina and South Carolina to pick up workers. At first, they worked seasonally, but eventually they settled in Winston-Salem.” 

Pegram said the building is notable for its role in the city’s labor history. 

“In 1943 there was a strike that occurred,” she said. “A factory worker died while working. He had requested leave because he was ill. Several hundred African-American women stemmers — and that’s not an easy job — went on strike immediately. They won the right to paid vacation and higher wages.” 

Pegram said in response to a question by Mayor Pro Tem Vivian Burke, who represents the Northeast Ward, that the historic commission would consider placing a plaque on the site to honor women labor leaders such as Velma Hopkins and Theodosia Simpson. 

The council also unanimously approved a $18,340 economic incentives grant to Cathtek LLC, a medical device development and assembly company. The company was established in 2000 as an original anchor tenant of the Piedmont Triad Research Park, and has purchased the old Curley Harley Davidson building on Reidsville Road with plans to relocate. 

Councilman James Taylor Jr., who represents the Southeast Ward, said city officials have expressed their wishes that the company hire local residents, but there’s no way for the city to make that a requirement of the grant.

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