Back in April, the Winston-Salem City Council passed a toothless resolution supporting the principle of reparations. The resolution, approved by all seven Democrats on an eight-member board, costs the City of Winston-Salem almost nothing. It promises little more than empathy to African Americans in the city who continue to suffer from the legacy of slavery and racist Jim Crow policies. During the reparations debate, the Council’s lone Republican, Robert Clark, stated that he “had a hard time demonizing people that sat in our seats in the 60s, when we did the identical thing that we are condemning them for as recently as two weeks ago [Metropolitian Village].” Robert Clark is wrong on reparations, in my opinion. But he’s correct in pointing out that the City Council continues to engage in neighborhood destruction and gentrification to this very day. One particularly glaring example of the City’s disregard for Black housing is the City’s complete obliteration of the predominately Black neighborhood of Brookwood, a project that began in earnest over 20 years ago. This little-known chapter in the City’s not too distant history deserves further scrutiny.
Brookwood, up until when the City of Winston-Salem decided to erase it from the map in the early 2000s, was a mostly African American neighborhood centered around 29th and 30th Streets adjacent to Piedmont Circle. At one time, it had a grocery store and a church. Today it has a WSPD/Forsyth County Sheriff’s Department joint firing range and a couple of generic-looking buildings. It’s a far cry from the thriving business park that the City predicted it would one day become when it invested millions into the project decades ago.
The Brookwood Redevelopment project was seen by city leaders at the time as a can’t miss project. With the Fed Ex Hub coming to PTI Airport, a business park located just south of Smith Reynolds Airport (30 minutes drive from PTI) would be positioned perfectly to attract businesses-that was the plan anyway. In reality, there are several business parks 30 minutes (or less) from PTI. Brookwood Business Park never had any clear advantages over business parks in Greensboro, High Point, Kernersville, or other parts of Winston. It is certainly fair to criticize the millions of dollars the City has given to Union Cross Business park over the years. For all its faults, development at Union Cross Business Park has more or less gone according to plan. The same cannot be said of Brookwood Business Park.
In 2001 the City began razing Brookwood. A supposedly “blighted” neighborhood was destroyed at great expense. In 2003, the Journal’s Michael Hewlett reported that the razed but not repurposed Brookwood had become an unauthorized garbage dump. In 2008, Bertrand M. Gutierrez reported in the Triad Business Journal that the City had spent a whopping $8 million on Airport Business Park (later renamed Brookwood Business Park). According to City of Winston-Salem documents, a large portion of the funding for the Brookwood Redevelopment project came from Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds. CDBG funds should have been used to rehabilitate or construct affordable housing units. It’s unconscionable that CDBG funds were used to raze a neighborhood.
In 2012, after more than a decade of failure to develop Brookwood Busines Park, the City and County opened a joint firearms training facility at Brookwood Business Drive and 29th Street. At the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Vivian Burke characterized the former Brookwood neighborhood as “substandard housing with absentee landlords.” Burke stated that her goal years ago was to “clean up” the neighborhood. The long-serving councilmember representing the Northeast Ward said that the former residents of Brookwood were successfully resettled, but that can’t be verified. Vivian Burke could have cleaned up Brookwood without tearing it down. CBDG funds could have been used to rehabilitate or rebuild Brookwood and nearby Piedmont Circle. They could have funded affordable housing instead of a firing range, but that was not the path our city leaders chose. Watching the joint firing range’s ribbon-cutting ceremony, it’s clear that the Mayor and City Council are consistently willing to take a victory lap when an apology would be more appropriate.
When you drive through Brookwood Business Park today you won’t see many signs of business activity. Only two parcels at the failed business park have been developed. Brookwood Business Park doesn’t even have a proper sign at its entrance. It’s mostly empty land, where a predominantly Black neighborhood stood for many decades. It’s a mostly business-less business park down the street from an airport that stopped offering commercial flights decades ago.
Brookwood is a sad reminder of the Winston-Salem City Council’s abandonment of affordable housing. It demonstrates that Allen Joines’ formula of putting business development and “job creation” before community needs is a disastrous formula that negatively impacts the most vulnerable among us. Two decades into Brookwood Business Park’s “development” it’s time that the City of Winston-Salem took responsibility for the Brookwood Business Park boondoggle and recommitted to building and maintaining affordable housing.
Vivian Burke at the Joint Firearms Training Center, March 2012. https://t.co/fwlphzNSWB
— Winston Watchman (@WinstonWatchman) June 6, 2021
These are the only two developed lots at Brookwood Business Park.
HUD Loan Brook
Redevelopment Commission was once located where Brookwood Business Park is today
According to this undated Twin City Sentinal article, the Redevelopment Commission, the bureaucrats who implemented Urban Renewal (the block-by-block destruction of much of East Winston) were at one time housed in Brookwood.
April 2021 CARF Reparations and Urban Renewal
Hewlett, M. (2003, June 12). A DEVELOPING EYESORE – LAND SET FOR REDEVELOPMENT PILES UP WITH TRASH, COULD
BECOME HEALTH PROBLEM. Winston-Salem Journal (NC), p. 1. Available from NewsBank: America’s News: https://infoweb-newsbankcom.proxy067.nclive.org/apps/news/document-view?p=NewsBank&docref=news/0FBA5EB45CB5E2F5.
Gutierrez, B. M. (2007, October 8). CITY SET TO START ON PARK – BUSINESS COMPLEX TO BE BUILT NEAR
SMITH REYNOLDS AIRPORT. Winston-Salem Journal (NC), p. 1. Available from NewsBank: America’s News: