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Old Salem, housing and the arts among groups asking for Winston-Salem coronavirus money

Old Salem, housing and the arts among groups asking for Winston-Salem coronavirus money


School groups and other organizations have traditionally been a huge part of the Old Salem experience. Frank Vagnone, the president of Old Salem Inc. told members of the city council on Wednesday: "Old Salem cannot operate at pre-COVID levels without some form of assistance." 

The Winston-Salem City Council heard appeals for everything from affordable housing to pickleball on Wednesday, as members listened for more than an hour and a half to people with ideas on how to spent $55 million.

The $55 million is coming to the city from the latest round of coronavirus relief money passed by the federal government.

And while city officials made no promises, individuals and representatives of community organizations did their best to emphasize how important they are to the city’s well-being.

“Old Salem cannot operate at pre-COVID levels without some form of assistance,” Frank Vagnone, the president of Old Salem Inc. told members of the city council.

School groups provide 70% of Old Salem’s revenue, he said, and without them Old Salem is going to run $4 million in the red during its current budget year, Vagnone said.

And the pickleball? Laura Decinque said that if the city provided a place to play, it could host clinics and tournaments that could bring in tourists.

Allison Perkins, the executive director of Reynolda House Museum of American Art, another big tourist draw in Winston-Salem, said the attraction needs investment in its facilities and grounds in the wake of the pandemic.

Perkins said that while crowd restrictions on museum were lifted March 26, “we have yet to see the return of typical visitor levels.”

Merritt Vale, the president and chief executive of the Winston-Salem Symphony, made an appeal for help, as did Andy Tennille, one of the partners at the Ramkat, which wants $150,000 to make up for 56 weeks of lost business.

Chase Law, the president and chief executive at The Arts Council of Winston-Salem and Forsyth County, asked the city for $2.5 million so that the organization can assist artists and the arts.

A number of people spoke in favor of money for affordable housing.

They included Derwin Montgomery, a former member of the city council, and Tom Williams, both of the Affordable Housing Coalition. They said the city should use some of the $55 million to put a dent in the lack of affordable housing.

Barry Rountree, the city’s former police chief and leader of the Winston-Salem Police Foundation, asked for $100,000 for youth initiatives.

Susan Richardson, an official at Second Harvest Food Bank, said that group would like $300,000 from the city to match a county donation. The group is in a capital campaign.

The Salvation Army asked for $500,000 for services for families in need.

Joan Lynch, who described herself as a mental health advocate, called on the city to create a downtown youth center so that young people will have something to do this summer.

Some speakers advocated support for the land trust concept, whereby a nonprofit land trust owns land that is made available for affordable housing.

“Through land banking, we can safeguard our community from the threat of gentrification,” said Micheal Banner, who said he was the executive director of the Black & Brown Revolutionary RootZ Agricultural Arts Political Party.

Harold Eustache, the vice-chairman of the Forsyth County Republican Party, said the party supports spending for homelessness and veterans, and stressed a need for the city to be transparent in spending.

AnAkha Anet spoke in favor of utility and stormwater improvements, while Brook Guthrie voiced support for classes to teach artificial intelligence and machine learning, among other things.

Appeals were also made for the YWCA, the completion of Merschel Park, the Center for Creative Economy, the SHARE cooperative grocery store, sidewalk extension and repairs, the Guiding Institute for Developmental Education, the Unity Wellness Center of Winston-Salem, the National Community Development Corp., the Twin City Kiwanis Club, the Wells Center and the Winston-Salem Black Chamber of Commerce.



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