Union Station 2021, An Update

For nearly forty years (1975-2012), Winston’s Union Station was just another garage. It was Davis Garage, an auto repair and towing service owned and operated by Harvey Davis. The Davis family bought Union Station for a song back in 1970 and had ambitions of one day redeveloping it. Harvey Davis’ dreams were dashed when the City used eminent domain to take possession of Union Station in 2012.

Everyone can agree that an auto repair business being housed inside of a historic property adjacent to Winston-Salem State was just plain wrong. Local activists were right to demand that Harvey Davis should part with Union Station. But since the City took possession of Union Station nearly a decade ago, they have lacked a clear vision for Union Station. Because they used eminent domain, the City is mandated to use over 50 percent of the building for transportation purposes. That is fine if and when Union Station resumes rail service. But until then, it’s a problem.

Winston-Salem Chronicle Editorial, August 16, 2012
Urban Circulator Fact Sheet 5 (PDF)

Plans for a streetcar line that would have run from Union Station to the Innovation Quarter and from the Innovation Quarter to Wake Forest’s Reynolda campus were abandoned a few months before Union Station’s September 2019 ribbon cutting. Charlotte is investing in its streetcar system. But leaders in Winston claim that it’s too expensive.

At the moment, Union Station is a bus stop with one floor of office space. The bottom of Union Station’s three floors is currently being used by the City’s Transportation Department. Union Station’s middle floor will be utilized by Winston-Salem State at some point in the near future, and the top, street-level floor is going to be part restaurant and part historic destination.

I have used the term Disunion Station in the past to describe our city’s botched redevelopment of the former Union Station at 300 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. Union Station got its name from the fact that three railroad companies jointly owned and ran Winston’s former railroad hub (the Southern Railroad, the Norfolk and Western Railroad, and the Winston-Salem Southbound Railroad). When Union Station opened nearly 100 years ago, it had three owners but one purpose. The new redeveloped Union Station has one owner (the City) but several purposes.

If the City had purchased the property at Harvey Davis’ asking price, then they would be free to do whatever they wanted with the entire building.* Or if the City partnered with Harvey Davis, they could have used historic tax credits to offset some of the costs of redeveloping the building. As it stands, the City of Winston-Salem spent $20 million (and counting) on a building that will be used mostly for upscale office space. The City’s decision to use eminent domain may have doomed Union Station’s redevelopment before it even began.

If the City had paid Mr. Davis walking away money, they would have been free to turn the old Union Station into something extraordinary- such as a history museum (with an African American focus), a restaurant, and a showpiece for Winston-Salem State University.

In 2021, Winston’s redeveloped Union Station is divided and underutilized. It’s potential has not been maximized. I’m all for investing in historic properties, especially one that’s in the heart of East Winston. But thus far, Union Station’s redevelopment has been a costly adventure in historic preservation that has gone array.

It’s unbelievable that such an expensive project that has been planned for so long has gone off the rails. But on the bright side, the Clark Campbell bus station hasn’t been replaced by Union Station, as I once predicted. And Winston’s Union Station is a wonderful showpiece for Pilkington’s Spacia Vacuum Insulated Glazing system. Union Station’s approximately 1500 panes of glass look amazing! When the City Council approved the use of limited obligation bonds in 2014 to finance the restoration of Union Station, they probably thought that by 2021 their tax dollars would have provided for more than a high-end windows showroom and some new office space for the City!

“Eighteen million dollars being invested in this facility that has the opportunity as we bring in new transportation uses here as well as commercial uses here in this facility we’re looking at something that’s going to be transformative for this neighborhood.”      -Derwin Montgomery, then East Ward Councilmember, March 28, 2016

“Lots of people make glass. But if you need something special, you
need something unique, you need something top-quality you can always find it in the Pilkington catalog.”     -Michelle Portman Walter, Walter Robbs Architecture


Union Station Cheat Sheet (originally posted July 29, 2019)
Winston-Salem’s Union Station was constructed between 1924 and 1926 and was designed by the New York architectural firm of Fellheimer and Wagner. Constructed in a Beaux-Arts style.
Cost And Details
The Winston-Salem Terminal Company was formed by the three railroad companies serving Winston-Salem in the early 1920’s: the Southern Railroad, the Norfolk and Western Railroad, and the Winston-Salem Southbound Railroad. The general contractor was the Northwestern Construction Company, and the construction cost was $800,000.
Segregated Facility
Like other stations of its time, Union Station was constructed with separate public facilities for white and African American people. The white waiting room was located on the west side of the upper level and was accessed from the central lobby off of the circular entrance drive. The African American waiting room was located on the east side and was accessed from Wheeler Street, now S. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. Common facilities such as the ticket office, lunch counter, and newsstand were located between the two waiting rooms.
It Had A Good Run
Union Station served passengers from 1926 to 1970.
Abandoned Station
From 1970 through 1975 the station was unoccupied.
The Fancy Garage Years
Since 1975 (prior to acquisition from the City in 2012) Harvey Davis used the station as a location for his automobile repair business.
More About The Decline And End Of Rail Service In Winston.
Rail service needs, particularly for passenger stations, diminished following World War II in Winston-Salem, as elsewhere in the nation. By 1963, only the Southern Railway continued to provide passenger service with four scheduled trains daily. Passenger service ended at Union Station on June 15, 1970, when the last train stopped in Winston-Salem on its route from Greensboro to Asheville.  http://www.cityofws.org/Portals/0/pdf/Planning/HRC/Local_Landmarks/LHL_Sheets/105_UnionStation.pdf
City Takes Title
The city took the title on April 28, 2011. It took months for Davis to relocate.
Newspaper May 21, 2011 | Winston-Salem Journal (NC)
How Much Did The City Pay Davis?
November 6, 2012 | Winston-Salem Journal (NC)
How Much Did Davis Pay For Union Station?
According to Bernard Gutierrez, about $55,000
What Did Davis Want To Do With Union Station?
He proposes to sell $12 million in historic-preservation tax credits to wealthy investors. He gets capital; the investors get credits they can use to offset big tax bills later on.
Cannon (and Davis) think they can redevelop the station, give the city the top floor to operate a train station and still have space to rent to retailers. Condos and the like on adjacent land would be gravy.
A sticking point is a shortfall in funding of about $1.5 million to overhaul the building. The city’s not going to step in for a lot of reasons — a large one being another “public-private” partnership that listed heavy to the public end. (Hint: It’s near Business 40, made of brick and has a diamond inside.)
So what Cannon proposes is this: Let us try. If we don’t pull it off within a year of Davis vacating the building, we’ll walk. The city gets the property without resorting to condemnation.
2014 City Bonds
The bond also includes $18 million to pay for the repairs to Union Station.  https://triad-city-beat.com/union-station-renovations-move-forward-without-passenger-rail/
Enter Atkins CDC
The city will pay Atkins CDC $120,000 a year to manage part of Union Station. The CDC will pay the city a lease of $120,000 per year plus 85 percent of the revenue it makes from sublet leases of the space in the building. The agreement is for ten years and rates could be renegotiated after five years. December 24, 2015. Todd Luck
Groundbreaking, March 2016
Projected Completion?
Hold The Pizza
In May, Elizabeth Pizza pulled out of its agreement with the City and Atkins CDC. https://www.winstonwatchman.com/a-slice-of-incompetence-from-atkins-cdc/
*I must acknowledge that the thought of the City of Winston-Salem paying an extravagant about of money to Mr. Harvey Davis to acquire Union Station was less than ideal. The fact that Union Station was abandoned by the white establishment (Reynolds, Hanes, Babcocks) and converted into a garage speaks volumes about what the white power structure in Winston thought about East Winston in 1970. The Davis family should never have owned Union Station. But they bought the property. Sometimes you have to pay the man! I’m all for overthrowing capitalism. But until then, when a man or woman has title to a property that you want, you must pay them!


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