Apr 192013



Friday, April 19, 2013

When a Raleigh developer announced last week his plan to redevelop several downtown properties for office and retail space, he did so with a carefully crafted vision in two directions. Holton Wilkerson’s investment in the future success of downtown Greenville, while preserving and emphasizing the architectural integrity of its past, is reflective of a positive revitalization movement in America.

Downtown urban renewal projects of the 1960s and ’70s took on a misguided attempt to modernize older buildings. As downtown shopping districts were driven to keep pace with malls and suburban sprawl, architectural design mostly took a backseat.

Older buildings were covered with metal facades. Windows were closed off with more modern styles of brick. Upper levels once thriving with office and residential space were left to gather dust. Those renewal efforts, having run their course, left downtown districts a confused hodge-podge of old, new and downright ugly.

In recent decades, historic preservation has emerged as a way to capitalize on a city’s unique character by establishing new retail, professional and entertainment venues among old, historic structures. It’s not a new concept but one that Wilkerson’s firm, CommunitySmith, and its investors have embraced.

The plan is to establish 22,000 square feet of office and retail space at 201, 203, 205 and 207 E. Fifth St., including properties at 417 Cotanche and 703 Dickinson Ave.

During a meeting with The Daily Reflector’s editorial board last week, Wilkerson said his decision to announce the plan there was by design. The newspaper’s status as the oldest “homegrown news organization” in Pitt County, he said, is symbolic of his desire to create new commerce in a setting that tells an old story.

Wilkerson said several earlier revitalization and preservation efforts attracted him to Greenville. His firm’s redevelopment plans promise to complement several downtown establishments that have set the trend he seeks to continue. Those ventures — such as the Starlight Cafe, Winslow’s, efforts to perserve the old Park Theater building for use as a multipurpose community performing arts venue — and others would certainly benefit from a proposed $40 million student housing complex.

Local developers Tom Taft and Jim Ward want to establish that mixed residential and retail complex in the Reade Circle area adjacent to East Carolina University.

All of these redevelopment plans will require continued careful oversight and planning to ensure that preservation and utilization goals are met. The projects are indicative, however, of a vibrant and growing movement in Greenville to re-establish downtown as a premiere destination for shopping, eating and entertainment among residents, students and visitors.

via The Daily Reflector.


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