SciWorks in Winston-Salem ponders move downtown… to Bailey Power Plant?

SciWorks has been on Hanes Mill Road since 1974. (David Rolfe/Journal)

SciWorks has been on Hanes Mill Road since 1974. (David Rolfe/Journal)

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — The Bailey Power Plant in the Wake Forest Innovation Quarter downtown could be the future home of SciWorks, although the director of the science center said Friday that no decision has been made.

Still, a proposed $50,000 line item in the city of Winston-Salem’s proposed 2014-15 budget offers the intriguing possibility of such a move, according to the Winston-Salem Journal.

Call it just one of many options, said Paul Kortenaar, the director of SciWorks.

“We recognize that we need to keep up with the times and we are exploring how to do that,” Kortenaar said.

Assistant City Manager Ben Rowe said that the budget line specifying the Bailey Power Plant is meant to help SciWorks with some move downtown, but that it wouldn’t have to be the power plant. The money could be used to put the science center on some other downtown site, Rowe said.

SciWorks has been on Hanes Mill Road since 1974, but Kortenaar said the science center is hard to reach for residents who don’t have a car.

“We recognize that we are an amenity for the entire community,” Kortenaar said, adding that the power plant is “one of the options that we are considering.”

“It is a move that puts us closer to all of our constituency, not just those with easy access,” Kortenaar said.

SciWorks occupies about 30 acres and a building of almost 50,000 square feet owned by Forsyth County.

The Bailey Power Plant is owned by Wake Forest Innovation Quarter, the research park that is rising on the eastern side of Winston-Salem’s downtown. The research park is being developed by Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in partnership with a private company, Wexford Science and Technology LLC.

Eric Tomlinson, the president of the research park, said that SciWorks would be a great addition for the Innovation Quarter.

“It would be a remarkable event if that could be organized,” Tomlinson said. “Our intent is to create harmony between work and living, to support education in all its different guises. We are trying to develop the power plant as a place for arts and entertainment and innovation. We have had discussions with a large variety of tenants.”

The power plant, a cluster of distinctive buildings with two prominent brick smokestacks, was operated by R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. for 73 years before shutting down in 1997. It has about 120,000 square feet of usable space. Research park officials see the site as one that could house such attractions as a theater, tavern or restaurant, as well as office spaces.

Tomlinson said other power plants have been redeveloped for the arts, as well as “science centers, exhibition spaces and cafes.” SciWorks would fit right in as a tenant, he said.

SciWorks received about $167,000 from Winston-Salem for operations in 2013-14, and proposed the same amount in the next fiscal year in the proposed city budget. Forsyth County is earmarking about $180,000 in the 2014-15 budget. But the city is also setting aside $50,000 for a proposed move.

Michael Myers, who chairs the SciWorks board of directors, said that the “excitement” of downtown development is something that looks positive to the SciWorks board.

“The idea of moving from the north end to closer to the middle of the city has always been something that we have thought about,” Myers said. “With everything going on downtown, we would be foolish not to look and see if you can make something work.

“We are going to look at options. You obviously have to have places to go and supporters — it has got to be a community effort. There are a lot of pieces that have to come together. This is not a decision the board would make lightly. You have to make a thorough investigation.

“We would like to see something happen, but who knows in the end if the numbers work out?”

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