WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Winston-Salem has changed a lot over the past 20 years. It went from being a run-down place to avoid, to a thriving destination.
“Our downtown was vacant, it had no life,” said Ralph Womble, a lifelong resident. “We had to get together as a community and figure out what we were going to do.”
Womble said citizens, corporations and organizations pulled together to raise more than $53 million for the Millennium Fund. The Winston-Salem Foundation donated $2 million of that.
“Everybody had an idea,” Womble said. “It was arts, no, it was residential, no, it was restaurants. And the truth was it was all of them.”
Since 2003, The Millennium Fund has distributed grants to big projects including BB&T Ballpark and The Nissen Building, as well as non-profit developers such as Goler Community Development Corporation.
Goler used its grant to come up with a plan to create a mixed-income, multicultural community on the outskirts of downtown.
“If you’re going to have a thriving downtown, it’s got to be the entire downtown that’s thriving,” said Michael Sugg, president of Goler. ”You can’t have the central part that’s thriving and some of the edges are rough where people are afraid to come to town.”
Another big focus of the Millennium Fund is drawing people downtown through entertainment.
Cary Clifford owns Camino Bakery downtown. She’s part of a group of business owners who put on Second Sundays on Fourth, a free event series that features concerts and family friendly activities. The Millennium Fund has been critical to the success of the event, which draws between 2,000 and 4,000 people.
“That’s been really great both in terms of our level of satisfaction with the event series, but also putting Winston-Salem on the map,” Clifford said. “Now we get people from all over North Carolina to come to Second Sundays.”
It’s a major turnaround from the way things were in downtown Winston-Salem just over a decade ago and Womble believes the future is bright.
“Since 2002, we’ve seen dramatic change,” Womble said. “We’ve had the benefit of a lot of people working to get us there and I continue to see growth.”