WSNC’s Union Station: $20 Million, That’s A Lot For An Office Building That’s Failed To Live Up To Its Potential

The W-S Journal’s Scott Sexton criticized the City’s utilization of Union Station recently (Union Station provides context at a cost-11/20/2022). But as usual, Sexton was far too easy on the City of Winston-Salem. Sexton asked, “for $11.1 million – and counting-was the renovation of a building that houses a handful of government offices and serves as occasional exhibit space worth the investment?” He ends his column with the painful but largely unacknowledged truth that “passenger service isn’t coming back, nor does it appear likely that visions of restaurants and retail shops will come to pass anytime soon. Not without another healthy injection of public money under the guise of economic development.”

The main problem I have with Sexton’s Union Station article is his $11.1 figure. Initially, the City Council approved $11 million in Limited Obligation Bonds for Union Station. But by the time Union Station reopened in September 2019, the bill for restoring Union Station after decades of abuse and neglect was approximately $20 million. That is the figure that Allen Joines used at the grand reopening. And that’s roughly the figure you can find on the City’s website.


I’ve been critical of WSNC’s Union Station in the past. Union Station is a colossal failure, a project with a bloated price tag, searching for a purpose. The City had the opportunity to redevelop Union Station into a precious community asset for East Winston and Winston-Salem State University. But Allen Joines and Lee Garrity failed at every turn. If Union Station were in the heart of downtown, it would not have been allowed to fail. But it’s in East Winston, so effort, not the outcome, is all that matters.

“This building will be a primary destination for all of us…” It will be fully occupied in 2020. -Councilmember Annette Scippio, September 2019

In my opinion, the City should not have taken Union Station by eminent domain. Eminent domain obligates them to use the majority of the building for transportation. Union Station is currently a bus stop and home to the City’s Transporation Department. Paying Harvey Davis a king’s ransom for Union Station would not have been a perfect solution. But that would have given the City ownership of the building without restrictions.

Rail service is not returning to Union Station. Scott Sexton was right about that. But, if passenger rail service returns to Winston by some miracle, we can build a new modern trail station at that point.

Winston’s Union Station should have been converted into a history museum with a substantial East Winston/WSSU component. A museum would draw visitors and make a restaurant at Union Station viable. Old Salem is a treasure, and the Reynolda House is grand, but the fledgling new W-S MUSEum off Liberty Street could not be in a less-inspiring building. Union Station would have been an ideal location for a museum telling the community’s post-Salem history. A history museum at Union Station would have given Winston a history museum on par with Greensboro’s excellent downtown museum.

The City and S.G. Atkins CDC had years to plan for Union Station’s success. The City and its junior partner now bear responsibility for Union Station’s failure. Union Station’s centennial is approaching in four years. Will the City find new funding and open a successful restaurant at Union Station by 2026? Will Union Station ever live up to its potential?

105 - Former Union Station (PDF)_1
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