Apartments a Big Part of Winston-Salem’s Downtown Revitalization

I wrote the following for the blog at the day job and am re-posting it here because I thought it would be of interest to some people from my neck of the woods:

At its annual meeting on February 24 the Downtown Winston-Salem Partnership outlined how Winston-Salem’s downtown has been revitalized over the last 15+ years:

The nonprofit group listed 88 downtown investment projects since 2000 that have either been completed, are under way or for which a firm commitment has been made.

The combined capital investment value is $1.23 billion, topped by the $106 million spent on Wake Forest BioTech Place and the $100 million commitment by Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center toward a major medical education facility. Both buildings are in Wake Forest Innovation Quarter.

The investment is divided into eight categories: health and technology (eight projects, total $445.4 million); infrastructure (10 projects, total $188.4 million); institutional and public development (15 projects, total $181.6 million); residential (15 projects, total $140 million); multiple use (eight projects, total $95.1 million); office (five projects, total $88.4 million); arts and entertainment (five projects, total $50.3 million); and commercial (22 projects, total $42.2 million).

The Nissen Building, a PTAA member, was the largest residential project at $32 million, although far from the only project downtown – Winston Factory Lofts, Plant 64, Hilltop House, The Gallery Lofts, and Link Apartments Brookstown to name just a few. The transformation of the former Reynolds HQ building into a Kimpton Hotel and apartments has recently captured the city’s imagination as well as the soon-to-open Mast General Store project that will add another marquee destination for the downtown. In other words the revitalization shows no signs of slowing down.

Meanwhile over in Greensboro the entity charged with leading its downtown revitalization, Downtown Greensboro Inc, is going through a transitional phase and is looking for a new leader. That’s important because there are several projects in the works that will alter downtown Greensboro significantly over the next few years and it’s essential that there be someone at the wheel who can bring together the various constituencies – city government, elected leaders, industry, educational institutions, etc. – and provide a strategic direction for downtown redevelopment. If Greensboro can manage to bring some strategic direction to the downtown then we’re sure to see even more apartments developed in the downtown area in addition to those like Greenway at Fisher Park, CityView and the Southeastern Building.

As for High Point, well they have a new mayor, lots of new city council members and a new city manager and one of their primary tasks is figuring out how, and where, to revitalize their city. With the furniture market they do have a unique challenge so it will be interesting to see how things evolve there.

These are indeed interesting and (finally) dynamic times in the Piedmont Triad.

A Life is a Life

Two stories that have captivated people this last week have involved horrific crimes, and unfortunately those crimes have exposed a real weakness in our society that could actually promote more crimes just like them in the future.

In the first a man in Chapel Hill, NC, killed three young adults, who were his neighbors in their condo complex, in what the police have characterized as a dispute over a parking space. Because the three young people who were killed were Muslim the initial reaction of many people in the community was that it must be a hate crime, that the killer must have targeted them for being Muslim. Indeed, their families have asked the authorities to investigate it as a hate crime, and if the killer was found to have been engaged in a hate crime then the punishment would be more severe.

In the second story the depraved humans who make up ISIS beheaded over 20 Egyptians of the Coptic Christian faith in a move that was obviously intended to not only continue the group’s campaign of terror but to provoke Christians into a fight, to drive a wedge even deeper between the members of the Muslim faith who aren’t crazed jihadists and Christians, and to recruit even more depraved jihadists to join their side, and not inconsequentially, to juice their fundraising.

What’s truly disturbing about these stories, beyond the horrific nature of the crimes themselves, is our continued practice of assigning greater value to them because of who the victims were. We act as if the killings are worse because the victims are Christian or Muslim and we think they were killed because of it, as if that’s somehow worse than being killed for walking into the bank when it just happened to be getting robbed by someone with an itchy trigger finger. We don’t say it, but we imply by our reactions that we believe that because someone from our faith, our tribe, was killed that the tragedy is greater. That those three or twenty lives were somehow more tragic to lose than if they’d been from another tribe.

As hard as it is to see past our emotions it’s imperative to be honest with ourselves and realize that as long as we assign greater value to one killing because of who the victim is, or the sect/race/family they are from then we are dividing ourselves and perpetuating the very thing that enables the ISIS’s of the world. If anything we should be more enraged that three young lives were lost to a petty neighborhood dispute than to the interminable sectarianism that has defined humanity since the beginning of time. We should be equally horrified by the massacre of all people everywhere, no matter their race or religion or tribe, because a life is a life, and any life lost to inhumanity is a crime against us all.

That of course is what institutions like religion and government are supposed to do – to help us overcome the very base emotions that define the human being – but instead they are used by many of those very humans to continue the cycle of strife and death that we seem helpless to escape. Sadly, this will likely never end as long as people walk the Earth. We are simply too human.

Church, the Most Segregated Place in America

From a piece written about Dean Smith by Charles Pierce comes this paragraph with a sentence that rings uncomfortably true:

His father integrated a high school team in Kansas in the early 1930s. Smith himself walked into a Chapel Hill restaurant as part of the first great wave of protests in the 1950s. He tried to recruit Lou Hudson, and then he did recruit Charlie Scott, blowing up the color line in the Atlantic Coast Conference forever. He brought Scott home to dinner, and he brought Scott to church, always the most segregated place in America, even, alas, today. (Emphasis mine)

Unfortunately he speaks the truth, and of all the places it shouldn’t be it’s the church. Any church.

A Tale of Two States

The weekend edition of The Wall Street Journal had an article about the burgeoning film industry in Georgia that is likely to make the folks in the film industry here in North Carolina cringe:

ATLANTA—The film industry here has hit the big time, thanks to generous tax credits that have made Georgia one of the top states for movie and television production behind California and New York.

But the growth of what many call “Y’allywood” is being threatened by a shortage of makeup artists and costume and set designers—the rank and file of film and television crews…

In fiscal year 2013, film and television production budgets in Georgia totaled $933.9 million, according to the Georgia Department of Economic Development.

While some states have turned away from incentives, arguing that they hurt budgets, Georgia’s Republican-dominated legislature strongly supports them. Georgia offers film and TV projects transferable tax credits for 20% of production costs, plus an additional 10% if the project agrees to display the state’s promotional logo in its credits. The incentives apply for all workers on a set, whether they are Georgia residents or not.

North Carolina is one of the states that has turned away from incentives, with the state legislature failing to pass the legislation that would have renewed them in 2014. The Hollywood Reporter has a detailed story describing the issue and the probable effect:

One big reason the North Carolina incentive legislation failed is because the Koch Brothers-backed nonprofit Americans for Prosperity bought radio commercials as the debate that slammed film incentives was going on. The ads were part of a larger campaign to eliminate a range of state-funded development programs.

“The money coming in from the outside has hurt the North Carolina programs for business development,” said Rep. Susi Hamilton, a Democrat who fought to retain incentives. “The Americans for Prosperity spent a lot of money to try and end the program and unfortunately they have the ear or our leadership and appear to be successful.”

Hamilton, however, doesn’t believe this means other Southern states will follow suit. In fact, she sees the opposite happening as North Carolina stands to lose more than 4,000 good jobs.

“The implications for other states,” says Hamilton, “particularly in the Southeast, are that they are going to pick up the work that otherwise would have come to North Carolina. That’s good news for the other states.”

Griffin says the irony is that there has been an influx of work into North Carolina in the past three or four years, and 2014 could be a record year.

Hamilton estimates that, in 2013, $360 million was directly spent by productions, while the state paid out $62 million in incentives. And that doesn’t count millions more spent on services and by workers who have moved to the state for jobs that pay an average of more than $65,000 per year.

The article also points out that the legislature did pass a grant program for the film industry, but because of the way it was structured it is “nearly useless.”

As tempting as it is to see everything as black and white, to assume that all Republicans or all Democrats see things the same way, it’s situations like this that reveal how varied the views within a political party can be. Republicans are in charge in both Georgia and North Carolina, but they obviously take very different stances on economic incentives. The folks in the North Carolina film industry are likely to lose out because of it.

It Ain’t Just How College Students Get the News

John Robinson, not long ago the editor of the Greensboro News & Record, is now teaching journalism to students at UNC-Chapel Hill. He’s written a blog post about how his students get their news, and while it’s not exactly shocking, it’s still interesting.

This is how one of my student’s began the diary of her day’s media interactions:

  • 8:15 a.m.: phone alarm sounds, snooze it
  • 8:30 a.m.: phone alarm sounds again, snooze it
  • 8:45 a.m.: phone alarm sounds again, turn it off
  • 8:50 a.m.: begin checking phone
  • Check text messages, respond
  • Check UNC emails
  • Check personal emails
  • Check Facebook
  • Check Twitter
  • Check Yik Yak
  • 9:05 a.m. Turn on laptop and begin work

That’s pretty much how she ended the day, too, minus the alarm.

I had 35 students in one of my classes record every interaction with media they had over the course of two days. The exercise surprised most of them with how reliant — addicted, in the words of several — they are to their phones and to social media. Putting aside the above student’s wake-up routine, it’s worth noting where her first stops of the day are not:No newspaper, no TV for news or otherwise, no CNN website. If it isn’t on her social media, she’s not going to get it.

That’s not uncommon, either. In fact, it would be more common if you add two more stops: “Check Instagram.” And “Check Snapchat. Respond to Snaps.”

As I read this I had to chuckle because if you were to push the time frame up – I am almost 50 and I have a hard time remembering the last time I slept that late – that’s pretty much how I roll in the morning too. I do consume news directly from traditional sources like newspapers, TV news and magazines, but honestly I do that more for depth and background than for news itself. Almost all of the interesting stories I read are shared with me by someone on one of my multitude of social networks and I seriously doubt I’m the only person in my demographic who can say that.

Later on in his post John writes, “They simply don’t access a great deal of mainstream news media outlets in their course of the day. They often get the news indirectly. But they still get it. (I was a college student once pre-Internet and they know a lot more about what’s going on in the world than most of my classmates did.)” That was true of my college experience too. So many people gave me funny looks when they saw me reading a newspaper or magazine even though it wasn’t assigned school work. Sure, plenty of people cared about news but many did not then and still don’t to this day.

What’s interesting to me is that most people I know in the working world already behave the way his students do. Many of them never paid attention to the news before social networks, and now they actually do because they’re bombarded by shares from their friends. (The reliability of these sources can be questioned, but that’s a post for another day). In my mind if a media company figures out the sharing economy then it’s made itself relevant. If not? Well, bless their hearts.

Fighting Anecdotal Fire With Anecdotal Fire

This article in Slate, written by a woman whose mother did not have her vaccinated and thus suffered through mumps, measles, rubella, etc., is an excellent piece of thinking about the current hubbub related to vaccinations. I like this part in particular:

I find myself wondering about the claim that complications from childhood illnesses are extremely rare but that “vaccine injuries” are rampant. If this is the case, I struggle to understand why I know far more people who have experienced complications from preventable childhood illnesses than I have ever met with complications from vaccines. I have friends who became deaf from measles. I have a partially sighted friend who contracted rubella in the womb. My ex got pneumonia from chickenpox. A friend’s brother died from meningitis. 

Anecdotal evidence is nothing to base decisions on. But when facts and evidence-based science aren’t good enough to sway someone’s opinion about vaccinations, then this is where I come from. After all, anecdotes are the anti-vaccine supporters’ way: “This is my personal experience.” Well, my personal experience prompts me to vaccinate my children and myself. I got the flu vaccine recently, and I got the whooping cough booster to protect my son in the womb. My natural immunity—from having whooping cough at age 5—would not have protected him once he was born.

(Bold emphasis mine)

There are a lot of things that frustrate me about the vaccination debate, not the least of which is that someone else’s decision to ignore science and logic might adversely affect other peoples’ health, but what really gets my goat is the trend the author points out of people refuting evidence with anecdote.

Recently I saw a post on Facebook in which someone shared an information piece of dubious origin that said something like: “Number of deaths from measles last year: 0. Number of deaths from measles vaccines: 106″ There are so many things wrong with this, but here are the most obvious:

  • First of all, if you’re going to share this kind of data then please share the source so it can be verified as legitimate.
  • Second, if it is legitimate then please share whether or not that’s in the US or the world. Why? Because if it’s the world then I can flat out tell you it’s BS. From the World Health Org.:
    WHO warned today that progress towards the elimination of measles has stalled. The number of deaths from measles increased from an estimated 122 000 in 2012 to 145 700 in 2013, according to new data published in the WHO Weekly Epidemiological Report and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. The estimated number of measles deaths in 2013 represents a 75% decline in mortality since 2000, significantly below the target of a 95% reduction in deaths between 2000 and 2015.
  • Third, if it IS true and it is just the US then use percentages rather than raw numbers. One reason so few people would have died from measles is because so many people were vaccinated! What percentage of people who got the vaccine died? Vanishingly small. And while the percentage of people who die after contracting measles would also be vanishingly small, that doesn’t mean the disease doesn’t wreak havoc by making people very sick.

So here’s the point, and I’m going to type it really slowly so the anti-vaxxers can keep up: You are entitled to your opinion. You are also entitled to ignore science and generally do stupid things. Your entitlement ends where others’ well being begins, thus if you decide to not vaccinate your children then your family should NOT be allowed to partake in any public activities or enjoy any other societal benefits that would put you in direct contact with the vaccinated population. No schools, no restaurants, no stores, no swimming pools, no movie theaters, no malls, no amusement parks, no public parks and no places of business (okay, maybe Walmart). Nada. Nothing. Don’t want to participate in 21st century public health programs? Fine, then don’t participate in 21st century public gatherings.

Some Things Shouldn’t Be Left to the Market

North Carolina’s freshman senator, Sen. Thom Tillis, is getting some pretty bad press today for saying that he has no problem with restaurants not being required to make their employees wash their hands after using the bathroom. Of course that’s the headline version that’s grabbing everyone’s attention, but when you see it in context it’s not quite that bad. Here’s what he said:

Tillis said his interlocutor was in disbelief, and asked whether he thought businesses should be allowed to “opt out” of requiring employees to wash their hands after using the restroom.

The senator said he’d be fine with it, so long as businesses made this clear in “advertising” and “employment literature.”

“I said: ‘I don’t have any problem with Starbucks if they choose to opt out of this policy as long as they post a sign that says “We don’t require our employees to wash their hands after leaving the restroom,” Tillis said.

“The market will take care of that,” he added, to laughter from the audience.

In that context the quote’s not nearly as bad as the headlines and social media posts would lead you to believe, but even so his stance is terrible public policy. First of all, just because you require a sign doesn’t mean it’s going to be seen. More importantly, how do you propose to deal with all the people who get sick or die before the word gets out that a restaurant is toxic?

I’m all for letting the market decide in many areas of our lives, but public health ain’t one of them.