It’s good to see progress being made on efforts to rejuvenate the downtowns of Wilkesboro and North Wilkesboro.
The two downtown areas are different historically, physically and even in personality. While the challenges they face differ in details, in broader ways they are the same.
The process both towns have taken included participation in the N.C. Main Street program, which has helped restore economic vitality to historic downtowns across the state.
Plans for both downtown areas include making them more “walkable,” including work at street crossings for the safety and convenience of pedestrians. A key to success will be street improvements that redirect through traffic, particularly trucks, away from the downtown areas.
Public education and law enforcement efforts are needed to help motorists become more mindful of pedestrian rights and safety. This becomes a more serious problem with removal of stoplights, as North Wilkesboro has done on its Main Street and as Wilkesboro plans to do on its Main Street.
The earth being moved around the Wilkes Heritage Museum and nearby areas of Bridge Street and the Open Air Market culminats discussions that began in the early 1990s when Pete Mann was Wilkesboro mayor.
Phase two is rejuvenating a larger area of Main Street and phase three focuses on the south side of Main Street and Cub Creek Park. Andrew Carlton, the town’s planning and community development director, indicated that phases four and five involve new and renovated housing on the perimeters of the downtown corridor.
Notable features in the first phase include a large and versatile stage and spectator area, “splash pad” water play area, putting power lines underground and a Yadkin River Greenway connector.
Wilkesboro’s plans focus on economic development, quality of life, drawing visitors, youth retention, “walkability,” housing and healthy lifestyles.
Carlton said the objective is to use special events, a farmers’ market, concert series, splash pad and similar means to draw “clustered crowds” and thereby attract small businesses to downtown Wilkesboro. The idea is that businesses will follow when people and potential revenue are there.
Construction is planned to improve pedestrian crossings and storm water drainage at the intersection of Ninth and Main streets in downtown North Wilkesboro, as well as at the intersection of Main and Sixth streets.
It was no small leap of faith when the North Wilkesboro town board purchased two dilapidated buildings on Main Street. The contractor they hired to renovate the buildings is still working as town officials seek someone to buy and put a business or businesses there. They’re currently talking to an out-of-state entrepreneur interested in establishing a beer brewery there.
Meanwhile, town officials are considering zoning changes that would allow residences on first floors of larger buildings in the central business district. It’s a case of trying to bring people downtown through more residential opportunities versus maintaining downtown as a business and office center. Ideally, both goals can be accomplished.
Downtown North Wilkesboro boasts a great public library, the Wilkes Art Gallery, the Yadkin Valley Marketplace with concerts and a farmers’ market, a historic movie theater, two coffee shops, good restaurants and a growing mixture of new and longtime retail establishments, but it needs more.
What about an elaborate playground with a waterplay area that would attract families with young children? We can think of multiple good locations.
Also, the old North Wilkesboro Train Depot is a tremendous potential attraction begging to be utilized.
Lastly, downtown North Wilkesboro needs more obvious connections with the Yadkin River Greenway to better utilize this asset.
Greenway Executive Director R.G. Absher recently announced that North Wilkesboro’s Memorial and Smoot parks will soon be connected with a new section of the greenway. Absher said the section between Memorial Park and the Yadkin River bridge between the Wilkesboros isn’t far behind.
On the other side of the Yadkin, the section along Moravian Creek from the mouth of the creek to the Wilkes Community College walking track will soon be paved.
The greenway is a huge asset for “walkability” within Wilkesboro and North Wilkesboro, as a connector between the two towns and for recreation and overall quality of life.
It will become even more valuable as it expands and as different sections are connected.