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Bailey South transforms ex-coal plant into inviting, exciting mixed-use space

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The city’s pivotal Innovation Quarter project has transformed the former R.J. Reynolds manufacturing district and is home to a new mixed-use building bringing more creative professionals and retail customers downtown.

Bailey South is a fresh new building with retail, office and restaurant businesses that doesn’t announce itself with a flashy exterior or a fancy plaza.

But look more closely and the building’s sharp, modern design, intriguing entrances, and exciting venues reveal themselves, tucked away at the corner of Fourth Street and Patterson Avenue.

The $24 million project, essentially a glass-clad, six-story building surrounding a small, 10,000-square-foot concrete power plant, brings 75,000 square feet of mixed-use space, new tenants and new opportunities to a once-forgotten corner of the city.

It’s another phase in the development of the Bailey Power Plant complex on Innovation Quarter’s west side. The 1947 brick and concrete buildings once burned coal to generate electricity for all of Reynolds’ downtown cigarette factories.

Other developers have completed a renewal of much of the block. Now the new building extends that growth toward Fifth Street.

Developer Front Street Capital, which is now based in the new building, envisioned a place that would draw creative professionals and curious people looking to dine and shop in a new place that invites the public into a district already known to hundreds of students, researchers and professionals for several years.

Carefully integrated into the warren of old train trestles, courtyards and downtown streets, Bailey South is the product of, in the words of Front Street Partner Coleman Team, the company’s desire to create unusual places for cities.

“We consider ourselves place-makers in that we have an opportunity to generate unique experiences for the public, for office tenants, for whatever it is to really create a dramatic sense of place,” Team says in his company’s airy glass-walled conference room surrounded by warm wood and modern design.

The interior spaces, designed by Stitch Design Shop, another downtown company located several blocks away, are innovative enough to house Front Street and the building’s marquee tenant, The Variable, an advertising and corporate innovation firm that serves major national clients.

Occupying the building’s sixth floor, The Variable’s office is filled with the sound of modern music in an open, free-flowing space designed to encourage creative professionals.

The Variable handles high-stakes creative work for such national brands as NAPA Auto Parts, Electrolux, Scotts, Char-Broil, BASF, Nestle, P&G, Frigidaire and others.

Company CEO David Mullen says the Variable chose Bailey South for its new headquarters after outgrowing another nearby space.

It’s carefully designed to impress clients and, just as important, potential employees.

Variable hires people who could just as easily choose to work in New York, Dallas or San Francisco. So their workspace has to be something special, Mullen says.

“We're trying to draw that talent to Winston Salem, North Carolina, which most of them haven't even heard of, right, when they first started talking to us,” Mullen says. People often fall in love with the city. But they want to know that they’re working in a top-of-the-line creative environment.

Variable needed space for those 103 workers where “they see themselves being inspired, and that they see themselves being excited,” Mullen says.

Other tenants of the building include Six Hundred ° (pronounced “Six Hundred Degrees”), Black Mountain Chocolate Bar and, soon, a second location for Barcelona Burger and Beer Garden.

The two restaurants feature patios with views of the major Innovation Quarter buildings as well as Bailey Park, the green space that serves as a central gathering point for Wake Forest University medical students, biotechnology researchers, business professionals and residents of the many apartments surrounding the district.

The building’s features use existing landmarks to striking effect. For example, one unassuming atrium features a skylight that shows the towering R.J. Reynolda brick smokestacks left from its industrial past.

Team described how his company conceived of the modern glass building as a complement to the older factory buildings and the renovated power plant that is at the heart of Bailey South.

Bailey Power Plant once provided coal-generated electricity to Reynolds Tobacco’s labyrinth of downtown factories. Other developers have used the smokestacks as a distinctive landmark while its railroad trestles, once used as dumping stops for coal, now carry pedestrians into the building’s second level.

To the north, another building features the Alma Mexicana, Cujino Forno and Incendiary Brewing restaurants and a large courtyard, perfect for everyday customers and select concert nights at the district.

Bailey South recently won an award as North Carolina’s Redevelopment Project of the Year from the NAIOP commercial real estate association. Other publications have also recognized the project as one-of-a-kind in the state.

After creating the second-story entrance using a path built on old railroad tracks on the building’s west side, Team says the company has its sights on redeveloping another building to the west. But first, Front Street is holding space for more retailers or a restaurant in the current project.

Team knows it’s risky to hold space for just the perfect tenant, but he’s determined to fill the building in an intentional way so that it’s a balanced place for the people of the city.

Many people in the city still don’t know about Innovation Quarter, and Team says Bailey South was built to create a connection, an attraction where the city’s residents can see the impact of hundreds of millions of dollars in downtown investment.

“What can we do to push the boundaries of design and programming for Winston from a retail and office standpoint? And then, also, how do we create that bridge between the city of Winston-Salem and the community of Winston-Salem and Innovation Quarter?” Team says. “Because this is a community asset.”

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