Liberty Street Storefronts: From Demolition By Neglect To Actual Demolition

“How do these buildings get into this type of condition? It looks like years of neglect and deterioration.” -John Larson

“City Council Members approved the demolition of several vacant buildings along Liberty Street. But councilwoman Annette Scipio questioned why the City can’t restore the buildings and preserve the history. A majority of Council says reconstruction of the buildings would cost more than their tax values, adding a lot of these sitting buildings also attract crime and homeless people to the area.” -City of Winston-Salem/YouTube

The first February 2023 meeting of the Winston-Salem City Council featured an interesting discussion on disinvestment along Liberty Street, also referred to as the Liberty Street Corridor. The long-neglected storefronts (built 1910-1940) along the 1400 block of N. Liberty have been vacant and deteriorating for decades.

City Council members stated Monday that the buildings are being condemned due to their dismal physical state. According to Councilmember Barbara Burke, the storefronts also attract squatters engaged in criminal activity. But it’s unlikely that criminal activity in or around the Liberty Street storefronts is a new development. The City has ignored those buildings for decades, even as they constructed the Liberty Street Market (2014) directly beside the crumbling edifices of a previous age, Liberty Street’s heyday.

HAWS and the W-S City Council’s implementation of a massive Choice Neighborhood Grant is obviously why the City is acting after years of inaction and deprioritizing Northeast Winston.

“These buildings are the last remaining structures in the African American community that were for commercial use, owned and operated for Blacks,” Councilmember Annette Scippio stated in her attempt to postpone the demolition.

Mayor Pro Tempore D.D. Adam’s description of conditions along Liberty Street/Cleveland Avenue was telling:

“But to your point Councilmember Larson, when a community has been left for decades of disinvestment, this is what you get. This is just not urban renewal. This is a community that never got the investment that the other sides of town got…This street, which is supposed to be a gateway from the south to the north. Liberty Street, when you get past the Kentucky Fried Chicken and heading towards downtown, it’s a whole different Liberty Street. Liberty Street, from the moment you get to Patterson, all the way up to the airport-this is what we got. Again, it wasn’t because of the community. It was just a fact of the systems in place that disinvested our community.” -Mayor Pro Tempore, D.D. Adams

Adams didn’t mention that W-S Alliance President Allen Joines has been responsible for showering resources on Downtown Winston while Liberty Street received a mere trickle.

A City official stated that restoring those buildings could cost ten times their tax value. Councilmember Jeff MacIntosh said the restoration costs would probably be around $1 million. Scippio replied by asking the Council to give her “three months to figure out if I can find money to restore this building.”

Northeast Ward Councilmember Barbara Burke rejected Scippio’s argument. Burke said the Liberty Street storefronts have “walls caving in, ceilings coming down, it’s unsafe and has become an attractive nuisance.”

Burke added her take on the neglect of the Liberty Street Corridor:

“For years, we have had disinvestment in this area. For years we have looked at, and seen and witnessed the neglect. Well, I am going to do something about it for the time that I am on this Council.” -Councilmember Barbara Burke

Burke didn’t mention her mother-in-law’s failure to stop the economic decline of Liberty Street. Winston’s longest-serving Councilmember personally witnessed Liberty Street’s decline and disinvestment. She never offered any bold plans for Liberty Street. Vivian Burke certainly didn’t propose that Liberty Street be given the largess that downtown received. Vivian Burke protested occasionally but almost always voted to fund downtown projects, including the ballpark.

Fancy lamppost in front of crumbling buildings. Nice job, City of WSNC

Mayor Allen Joines defended the City’s Liberty Street record. Joines said, “I think we need to keep in mind that the City has already invested quite a bit of money on this street with our Liberty Street redevelopment efforts.”

But the decorative lampposts in front of the soon-to-be-demolished buildings speak to the City’s poorly executed investments along Liberty Street. The Liberty Street Market and Liberty Street CDC are two more examples of the City’s failure to stabilize and improve conditions for the predominantly low-income, Black community along Liberty Street. (See the W-S Chronicle’s Liberty Street archive)

Liberty Street has suffered from Urban Renewal, segregation, white flight, and zoning inequity. Its problems are decades in the making. But local leaders more or less co-signed Liberty Street’s decline. We can’t let them off the hook. HUD Choice Neighborhood Grant, what HAWS refers to as the ‘Cleveland Avenue Transformation,’ is an effort to invest in a community that has long been underfunded.

The shameful tragedy of the last 20-30 years is that the Liberty Street Corridor was not included in downtown planning. Looking back at one of the first Downtown Winston-Salem planning studies from 1996, we can see that Liberty Street and East Winston were deemed on the periphery of downtown. Local elites, chiefly the W-S Alliance (led by W-S Alliance President and WSNC Mayor Allen Joines), defined downtown boundaries and steered resources to predominantly White communities. Some of those communities were not predominantly White when downtown redevelopment began, but they are PW today.

Neighborhoods (Holly Avenue, West Salem, etc.)  to the south and west of the downtown core have been included in downtown planning. The City’s downtown ballpark was built in the majority-Black Watkins Street neighborhood, the last of the “African American West End.” That Black neighborhood was reduced to a historical marker. West Salem and Holly Springs have been the principal beneficiaries of BB&T Ballpark, now called Truist Stadium. The City’s ballpark could have been built in the Liberty Corridor, but I suppose Billy Prim didn’t own any property in the area.

The Liberty Corridor stretching from Liberty/Patterson to Smith Reynolds airport is adjacent to the downtown core. Liberty Street is the northeast gateway into Winston. But it could have been included in the City’s downtown redevelopment plans. We can see that the Southeast Gateway area (adjacent to historic Happy Hill and Old Salem) has been included in downtown plans and received extensive subsidies from the Winston-Salem City Council.



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The second two images are from Brown and Keener Urban Design’s 1996 Plan for Downtown Winston-Salem. You can see from the third image that East Winston and the Liberty Corridor are on the upper right corner of the map. But neither East Winston (besides the Innovation Quarter) nor the Liberty Corridor was included in future downtown redevelopment efforts. The Liberty Corridor was given a modest CDC but not the massive funding it takes to revive a neighborhood. It was othered and denied downtown development funds.
FY19_Project_Summaries (1)
Choice Neighborhoods
FY2019 Implementation Grant Award


Somewhat perversely, the fact that local leaders ignored Liberty Street/Cleveland Avenue’s socio-economic decline helped HAWS win a Choice Neighborhood Grant in 2019. HAWS’ narrative on Cleveland Avenue is that Cleveland Avenue/the Liberty Corridor has been excluded from revitalization efforts that transformed the Innovation Quarter without blaming local leaders who made those decisions.

It’s worth noting that the Innovation Quarter is the only neighborhood in Winston that successfully transitioned from high to low poverty during Allen Joines’ time as mayor.

Liberty Street Storefront property records and demolition orders:

1409 N. Liberty Street

1411 N. Liberty Street

1415, 1417, 1419 N. Liberty St

Brown And Keener Urban Design, 1996

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