At the invitation of my friends at the High Point Convention and Visitors Bureau, I recently attended the CVB annual retreat held at HPU. What I heard gives me hope a resurgence may be possible for downtown High Point.
The agenda included an overview of a proposed multi-use stadium for the east side of downtown. The presentation was impressive, compelling, and showed a world-class team has been assembled to plan initial design and financing. That presentation alone was worth my time, and convinced me the project is one that deserves serious study and consideration.
But what left me inspired, enthusiastic and optimistic about the possibilities for our city was the story we heard from Bill Kalkhof, former President of Downtown Durham, Inc. Bill is as responsible as anyone for the remarkable transformation of downtown Durham over the last 20 years. For those of you who have not traveled to Durham recently, its change from a scene of empty, dilapidated, boarded-up tobacco manufacturing and warehouse buildings to today’s bustling concentration of retail shopping, restaurants and in-town residential construction is simply amazing.
Bill laid out a fascinating blueprint for how they did it in Durham. It required a combination of people coming together who cared about their community, who were tired of the status quo, who were willing to put time and financial resources into the project, who developed a common vision and strategy, and who then executed that strategy without compromise. They made downtown development a community priority, and worked hard to create an environment ripe for private investment.
DDI’s blueprint for development included a set of “non-negotiable” principles, including that each initiative requiring incentives must be a good deal for the taxpayers. It included creative approaches to project financing, persistent and dogged determination to execute the strategy and to overcome obstacles and, most importantly, the recognition that building strong relationships with key players in the downtown area (landlords, developers, government leaders, community leaders, business leaders) was the key to success.
Bill noted that, in many ways, 20 years ago Durham was far worse off than High Point is today. But it had three critical assets to build upon: available buildings with character, a highly-regarded University, and local talented people who were willing to work together toward a shared vision.
Applying the Durham approach to High Point: we have a downtown that certainly has challenges due to the concentration of showroom space, but that also has a considerable amount of available unused retail space with character, as well as parking lots capable of development. We have a highly-recognized University bringing talent and attention to our City. And based on the level of attendance and interest I witnessed at the CVB meeting, we have community, business and government leaders who see a need for change in downtown High Point and appear willing to lay aside differences and begin to work together.
High Point needs a galvanizing project – something to begin to get people excited and help them believe change may really be around the corner. Whether that project is the mixed-use stadium or another concept, I am convinced that if the folks in Durham can revitalize their downtown, so can we. It will require making downtown development a community priority. It will require laying aside differences and prioritizing initiatives. It will require investment of financial and other resources from the private and public sectors. It will require leadership and political courage. But if the meeting I attended is any indication, we may have just seen the spark we need to light the flames of excitement, involvement and commitment in our city.