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Commentary: Downtown development generates opportunity

Benton Convention Center

Commentary: Downtown development generates opportunity
August 03
04:00 2017

By Algenon Cash

City leaders gathered for a small ceremony to cut the ribbon for the grand reopening of the Benton Convention Center.  The reinvention of the downtown property located in the Twin City Quarter received a $20 million facelift that included significant structural and technology upgrades.  The property now offers 105,000 square feet of flexible meeting space, including an expanded upper level.

I attended the event to learn more about the project and ultimately its impact to the local community, economy and Twin City citizens.  I had the immense pleasure to engage with many leaders who felt passionately about the project and the various benefits it will provide.

Mayor Allen Joines delivered opening remarks before inviting guests in the newly beautified convention center for a reception.  He touted the large windows that opened up the interior space, better sound and light quality, not to mention the convention center has been moved closer to the street and provides a more inviting atmosphere.

Joines stated, “last year tourism had a $80 million impact in the city, so with the new convention center, the city expects to see a jump in tax revenue from local hotels, restaurants and retail.”

Joines also felt the promise of a new convention center aided decision makers when they considered Winston-Salem for the new Cardinal Hotel and the planned Indigo Hotel slated to be located at the Pepper Building.

Council Member Denise “D.D.” Adams highlighted the collective input received prior to upgrading the facility which resulted in a colorful and vibrant space that pays homage to past leaders.  Adams shared, “We never closed during the rehabilitation process, so no customers were impacted by the need to upgrade.”

North Carolina State Sen. Joyce Krawiec was the only one to attend from the General Assembly and thought, “This is amazing, construction was done in less than a year and it was all local taxpayer money.”

 Krawiec is excited the National Council of State Legislators will host their annual Women’s Leadership Conference in Downtown Winston-Salem this year, which she directly accredited to the city’s willingness to invest in the central business district.

Milton Rhodes, former president of the Arts Council, was one of many community stakeholders in attendance and reminded others that it took over 17 years to make this project a reality.

Rhodes believes, “The city has to take more risks, move with greater speed and make proactive decisions” to remain competitive in a growing North Carolina.

Forsyth County Commissioner Gloria Whisenhunt represents the county on the Convention and Visitors Bureau Board of Directors and declared the reinvention of the Benton Convention Center is “already boosting economic development and the city is now booking events 5 years out.”

Other community members in attendance were not as focused on the economic impact – LaDonna Bost along with her husband, former Clemmons Mayor John Bost, were “measuring the drapes.”  Every year they participate in decorating the convention center for Love Out Loud, which uses The Benton annually during the holiday season.

Love Out Loud focuses on developing relationships and convening people across diverse cultures, race and faith-based groups – so they use the common space available in the convention center to build social capital.

Chuck Spong, executive director of Love Out Loud, stated, “The convention center is the place where the city comes together.  We are happy to continue the Moravian tradition of unity as we move into our 10th year of hosting ‘Christmas for the City,’” which is a no- cost event available to the community at-large. 

Winston-Salem Ambassadors is a newly formed nonprofit with a mission to educate people about the assets and opportunities located throughout the city.  Mackenzie Cates-Allen founded the organization in 2016 and feels that “everyone can be an ambassador” and the convention center is a “great asset to draw people into the city.”

One of my favorite encounters happened to be with Apostle Khadejahdiop. She worked in food service at the convention center nearly 40 years ago and returned to see “what all hoopla was about.”  She was “amazed” at the transformation of the historical asset that’s been the center anchor of downtown for several decades.

Council Member Derwin Montgomery, who also serves as executive director of the Bethesda Center and senior pastor at First Calvary Baptist Church [and is a partner in the company that owns The Chronicle], had simple remarks to share: “The reinvention of the convention center is a dramatic improvement from what existed and it’s a huge investment in the community’s future.”

Algenon Cash is the managing director of Wharton Gladden & Company, a local investment banking firm. Reach him at acash@nullwhartongladden.com.

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