Downtown shines as city council takes a closer look

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From multi-million dollar developments like Whirligig Station to public-private projects like the Cherry Hotel, Wilson city councilmen got an update on all the happenings in downtown during a Thursday morning walking tour.

“Several years ago, we did a downtown visioning and what we came up with was the tagline: Crossroads of Southern charm and modern innovation,” said Kimberly Van Dyk, the city’s planning and community revitalization director. “We really envision our downtown to be redeveloped with all these charming, historic projects, but also to be innovative, forward-thinking and progressive to attract entrepreneurs and innovators in the areas of art and technology.

“I think you’re starting to see the fruits of that labor and we’re hoping to continue bringing you results.”

Mayor Bruce Rose pitched the tour several months back, but the council was waiting on mild weather for the more than two-hour deep dive to see downtown developments firsthand. During the walk, councilmen saw projects like Artsy Alleys and improvements along Goldsboro Street, heard about plans for increased parking and the incorporation of technology, then toured developments in the infancy stage like the Cherry Hotel to the final detail work at Whirligig Station.

“This is awesome,” said Councilman Tom Fyle as he saw where Bateeni plans to bring Mediterranean cuisine to Whirligig Station. “I’m so excited.”

Van Dyk showed officials where a deck will be built for outdoor seating at the restaurant.

“You’ll be able to sit here and look at the Whirligig Park,” she said. “I think it’ll be a really cool dining experience.”

Council members saw a two-story and a one-story apartment in the former tobacco warehouse that are expected to be finished in the next six weeks. Van Dyk said the improvements along Goldsboro Street provided the foundation for a planned corridor.

“This is our Avenue of the Arts,” she said. “We want to do more public art and we’re looking for funding sources to infuse art into the street.”

A wood-fired pizza restaurant was planned for the vacant service station next to the warehouse, but Van Dyk said the plan has shifted to the corner of Douglas and Barnes streets. She added that the investors who renovated and opened Art Ventures down the block at Tarboro Street has plans for the space next to the planned pizzeria.

“Rhine and Pegi Sharp got so excited doing the other building that they wanted to do more,” she said. “Rhine bought the corner building first and they bought it from him to open Pie Station. Also, Rhine has secured three tenants for this building. One will be a bakery with some recipes similar to Shealey’s Bakery. The one on the front right can’t announce yet, but the one on the back will be a pub with a patio and deck.”

Wilson Chief Planning and Development Officer Rodger Lentz said to complement all the development, the city is pursuing efforts to add more spaces to existing parking lots and working with property owners to build new lots. He also talked about efforts to preserve properties that are waiting for the right developer, such as three boarded-up storefronts diagonal from the Art Ventures gallery.

“We’ve attempted to contact the owner to get them to do things, but it is not working out, so these are buildings we’ll start to do some code enforcement with because we don’t want to lose them,” Lentz said. “We don’t want to lose any more buildings downtown, so we’ve been coming up with strategies to tackle buildings like this where you just can’t get movement.”

Work also is expected to get underway soon on the Gig East Exchange, Cherry Hotel and the new headquarters for the Arts Council of Wilson. Many of the council members were excited to see the Cherry Hotel’s interior, especially the original ballroom.

“They turned this into affordable housing, but the manner in which they did it, they hid some of the details that were in this building,” Lentz said. “At the time it was done, I don’t think we were as attuned into historic preservation, but everything will be protected now.

“This project will showcase the true grandeur of this building.”