Community leaders met Tuesday night in the Ishi Pentecostal Temple in Winston-Salem to discuss plans for the city’s historic Union Station building located at 300 South Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, currently home to Davis Garage. The building, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, dates back to 1926 when it served three railroads that connected many major cities in the state. During the 1940s as many as 18 trains and 500 passengers per day came through Union Station, but it closed in 1970 with the decline of passenger rail service.
The city has partnered with the architectural and interior design firm Walter Robbs to find a way to utilize the space. There are currently plans to extend a few local bus lines to the station when it is finished, but not all of the space would be used for transportation. Firm vice president Rence Callahan said they have met with city leaders as well as faculty from Winston-Salem State University about the potential for economic development in the area.
“This building is a fabulous piece of architecture, and when it’s restored it could be the showpiece of East Winston,” Callahan said at the meeting while emphasizing that it would not replace the main bus station downtown.
He said the building is in good condition, and most of the work needed to be done would be restorative. Each floor is 12,000 square feet.
At the meeting, residents in attendance tossed around a variety of ideas which included turning the building into a museum to preserve the history of the station, using it as a business center for meetings and using it for commercial development in an effort to bring more businesses to the area surrounding the university.
Marva Reid, a member of the Winston-Salem Neighborhood Alliance, said she has been involved with the restoration project since 2006, when the city discovered they would receive federal funding. She has fond memories of the days when trains ran in and out of Winston-Salem.
“Being a little girl, I remember coming to the station, using the station,” she said. “We used to always drop my mother off because she used to go to seminars out of town. But I remembered the activity, just to see people come and go and sitting down waitng for the next connection. But the place is just beautiful.”
Reid said she hopes at some point passenger trains will once again roll through Winston-Salem. Amtrak currently serves Greensboro and High Point.
Callahan said he found the dialogue insightful and after a few more similar community meetings, the next step in the process will for the firm to test out the ideas proposed and see which ones are realistic.
“It’s the creative process of synthesizing all those ideas into a series of different approaches and then getting feedback, and then at the end of the day we take that feedback and synthesize it into the final concept,” he said.