Thank you for being one of our most loyal readers. Please consider supporting community journalism by subscribing.
A full-service YMCA, more than 200 residential units and up to 20,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space is slated for construction on the site of downtown Wilson’s iconic BB&T towers.
“The millennial and younger generations put a lot of consideration into being able to walk to work and maybe not having to deal with a vehicle at all in terms of traffic and pollution, so they want walkable amenities,” said City Manager Grant Goings. “For the first time, this project really gives us an opportunity to have a full-service offering for people who choose that lifestyle.”
Community leaders gathered Thursday in the towers’ shadow to make the joint announcement between the city, the Wilson Family YMCA, the Healthcare Foundation of Wilson and NSV Development. However, the announcement has deeper roots with the local YMCA planning an expansion for more than a decade. A location was bought on Wooten Boulevard, but the recession side-tracked those plans until a partnership with the Healthcare Foundation of Wilson yielded a $22 million grant to support an afterschool initiative for county middle school students in downtown.
Meanwhile BB&T announced plans for a new $35 million facility on Pine Street. To facilitate the investment, the city of Wilson agreed to swap the Paul V. Berry Hickory Grove Park site on Kenan Street for the tower property.
“The city is committed to having fitness opportunities in the downtown area, especially with the increasing number of residents we hope to attract to the area,” Goings said. “We felt a full-service YMCA would actually offer a greater variety of fitness opportunities than a park, particularly since the park in which we had swapped land for was underutilized.”
Goings said the preliminary renderings for the new YMCA and multi-use development as well as the broader downtown vision includes plans for pockets of greenspace and smaller parks throughout the area.
“This footprint is just a rough guesstimate because the architectural design has not been done, but the city plans to reinvest in our land in front of the library and tie it into the open space as part of the development of this block,” he said. “We hope the end result is a fluid, connected feel that runs all the way from the library to the new BB&T facility with walkways throughout and other opportunities for fitness.”
NSV Development principal Andrew Holton said his company had been working on various rehabilitation projects in the downtown area and initially contemplated opportunities to renovate the towers. The needed work proved cost-prohibitive and planning began for new construction along the 100 block of Pine Street.
“All the macroeconomic factors, all the economic development growth Wilson has seen and all of the public investments — from infrastructure like Greenlight to the Whirligig Park and the Gig East Exchange — signals that Wilson sees downtown as a centerpiece in its future,” Holton said. “It is hard to have a downtown without having residential, so we saw that as a great opportunity. Wilson has some unique properties and the way the city has leaned into the heritage of the whirligigs and Vollis Simpson’s work is something completely different. That is the type of courage and vision that we look for and that is why we’re excited to be here.”
Officials said the new construction of this mixed-use development will add a different component to the downtown revitalization.
“Often we have retailers that express interest in our downtown, but in order to bring a retail project currently, they also have to take on a building rehab project,” Goings said. “That is about the only way to get into the downtown market right now, but having this new space will give retailers an opportunity to have a presence in downtown Wilson without having to do that, and that opens us up to some chains that will only consider custom-fitted spaces.”
Holton said he appreciates the research the Healthcare Foundation of Wilson has done to ensure the YMCA fits into a mixed-use environment. He added he anticipates recruiting food, beverage and retail establishments that fit well with the YMCA clientele as well as with the residents and downtown employees.
“A thriving downtown is a place that has that after-hours business and that early morning component in addition to the 8 to 5 traffic,” he said.
A timeline for the towers’ demolition as well as construction for the new developments has not been released, but the afterschool program at the YMCA is scheduled to be begin in August 2022. While the YMCA amenities have not been designed, officials said a pool is being considered in preliminary designs.
“Just imagine, in three years, we will have hundreds of students coming to downtown Wilson experiencing positive changes that will impact their lives and our community forever,” said Wilson County Commissioner Chris Hill, who also chairs the foundation board.
Goings said the hope is to coordinate construction of the developments to minimize inconvenience and maximize efficiencies. He added that the city has committed to providing “an adequate parking solution to serve all the parties in this development project.”
“Those towers are very symbolic to our community. They are symbolic of our hometown bank that has grown up to be one of the largest successful financial institutions in the country and even though they are outdated and need to be taken down, there will be some feeling of loss when that landmark is gone,” he said. “That is one of the reasons we wanted to make sure that any project proposed for this site would be something the community could take a lot of pride in. We want this to be something the community could use and participate in and we believe that upon the completion, the citizens of Wilson are going to be so proud of how this block presents itself and represents our community.”