Facade improvements, streetscape improvements, tree lined sidewalks and a amphitheater-based park were just some of the suggestions presented to the Walnut Cove Board of Commissioners last week as part of a plan to revitalize the town’s downtown area.
Eric Woolridge of Destination by Design, the firm hired to help develop a plan for Walnut Cove’s future, said his company has reached the point where they need public input on what aspects of the plan the community wants to move forward with. A public meeting to review the plans and get suggestions from the community has been set for Dec. 3 at the Walnut Cove Public Library.
He presented the board an extensive overview of the project so far, providing recommendations of design guidelines for the town, possible facade improvement recommendations, streetscape recommendations and possible plans for renovations to Fowler Park and the site of the old Dodson hotel.
“You have a very dynamic downtown area anchored by Main Street,” said Woolridge. “It is a great canvas.”
He said the design guidelines offered represented a survey of design principles that had proven to work in other communities.
“We talk about a farmer’s market, parks, the importance of street trees, the width of the sidewalks and what is appropriate for moving people and also having places like eateries with tables on the sidewalk,” said Woolridge. “We talk about crosswalks and parking lots and how to make them look good. We talk about the need to have mixed uses in the downtown area, branding and programming. We talk about some functional art and outdoor dining. This is kind of a toolbox for the private sector. A lot of these are low cost things that can pull out a lot of character from the buildings.”
Woolridge suggested that the town consider removing the center lane from Main Street to allow for the development of angled parking.
“It would allow you to develop a significant amount of parking,” he said, noting that the plan also called for a roundabout to be installed at the intersection of First Street and Main Street to slow traffic before entering the downtown area. “We shot some of these ideas to DOT and they had some real heartburn about the angled parking. They felt it could slow traffic to a speed they do not like, but it is one of the things I am looking forward to hearing from the community about.”
Woolridge said his firm was working on a second streetscape plan that may be more appealing to DOT.
“We are going to look at keeping the center lane and maximizing the parallel parking and maybe creating some nice planters in the center lane where people do not need to turn,” he said. “Everything is anchored by the streetscape and improving that particular element.”
The plans also included a variety of facade improvements suggestions for existing buildings, including the creation of archways over alleyways.
“We also took a stab at what you could do with the old hotel site and some ideas for the park,” said Woolridge. “My general recommendation for the old hotel site can be summed up in one word – patience. The town should wait to deal with this property until they can get the streetscape done. The particular property, and what could go there, could spawn a whole lot of things. We have come up with a building with a structure that has a variety of different uses.”
He said the town should market the property to developers with an idea of what they wanted it to be used for and see who responds.
Destination by Design has developed a more concrete plan for Fowler Park which involves using the park’s natural topography to create an amphitheater space.
“One thing we heard a lot in the public meetings was what would it look like to create some sort of stage area downtown,” said Woolridge. “You could get about 500 seats in the amphitheater.”
He said the plan for the park also included creating a farmer’s market in front of the library and an adventure playground closer to the fire station.
Woolridge underlined the fact the proposed plans were all long-term plans that the town could work toward over several years.
“We are trying to think about elements in context of a new Main Street and a revitalized Walnut Cove,” he said, noting that his company had even created a new logo and slogan for the town. “The slogan we came up with is ‘Our roots run deep.’ There is a message and a story inside that that can be compelling.”
Initial responses from town commissioners about the proposed plan were positive.
“We will never get anywhere if we don’t get something started on paper,” said Mayor Lynn Lewis.
Woolridge said the next step was to get responses form the community and then refine the plans before bring them back to the board.
Nicholas Elmes may be reached at 336-591-8191 or on Twitter @NicholasElmes.