It’s already been four years since Bailey Park opened to the public in April 2015, and every year there are more events, more activity, more pups chasing frisbees, more students studying for finals in the sun.
In the grand scheme of what the Innovation Quarter has become and its continual evolution, it’s fitting that Bailey Park sits right in the middle of all the current action. That’s no accident, but creating place is a much more intricate exercise than one might think.
The story of how Bailey Park went from an amalgam of buildings and surface lots to one of the most popular recreation spots in downtown Winston-Salem is filled with some interesting plot turns.
We tracked down the cast of characters involved in making Bailey Park a reality for an oral history of how Bailey Park came to be.
The quadrangle formed by the convergence of Fourth and Fifth streets, Patterson Avenue and Vine Street had been envisioned as a park as far back as the early 2000s. But making that vision a reality took more than a few years of planning. Where did the concept start?
Graydon Pleasants (head of real estate, Innovation Quarter): The first time there was any inkling of a park in what would become the Innovation Quarter was the original master plan, which we commissioned by Sasaki and Associates [a global urban design firm] in 2003. They envisioned a mixed-used development strategy, and one of the basic rules of that vision was the need for a central, community green space.
Christy Turner (landscape architect, Stimmel Associates, which was commissioned to help bring together the look and feel of the Innovation Quarter): One of the first challenges we faced in developing the Innovation Quarter was the decision to use the entire block that is now Bailey Park for, well, a park or whether some of that land would be used to construct a building. The design team was partial to a full park, but there was also a lot of interest in a building with a parking deck and a “green roof.” I think getting the whole block as a multi-use green space was a big win for the feel and vibe of this area of downtown.
Pleasants: At that time, the Bailey Park block was quite the combination of elements! There were several supporting buildings to Bailey Power Plant, with steam pipes coming up and across Patterson Avenue. There was also a small parking lot, a stream and the former Allegacy credit union building.
As a part of what would become the Bailey Park development, Allegacy Federal Credit Union agreed to sell its branch on the corner of Fifth Street and Patterson Avenue and move to what would eventually become Wake Forest Biotech Place, across the street. That building—and the new Allegacy branch—opened in 2012.
Pleasants: The early master plan and the idea of a green space of that size really represented the turning point from traditional research park development to true mixed-use development. It was at this point that we really began to work with our development partner, Wexford Science & Technology, who were the real impetus to look at effective green spaces around the U.S. One of the more interesting examples we found was Bryant Park in New York. The active programming of a publicly accessible space being just as important as the overall park design really stood out to us.
With the block organized and a general vision for an upper and lower lawn created, crews set out in 2010 to begin moving earth … and lots of it.
Turner: The grade of the land really lent itself to an upper and lower lawn concept. It’s easy to miss if you’re not paying attention, but there is about 30 feet of elevation change between the southwest and northeast corners. That’s a lot of grade to take up in a very skinny piece of property. So, we realized early on we were going to have to create terraces to make it work, which actually lent itself to some great design.
Pleasants: One premise we started out with was that the park needed to be intimate and comfortable. We needed a building for housing storage and bathrooms and a separate small amphitheater with a stage for more intimate gatherings. But we also knew we needed to create a sense of place, and that was the harder part. How do you go about creating a place that’s not just functional, but where people want to be? How do you make people feel comfortable in a space?
Lindsey Schwab (director of community relations for the Innovation Quarter. Part of Schwab’s job is to help transform Bailey Park into a place people want to be through programming and other activities): Early on, we tried to do simple things to create a sense of space before any of the infrastructure you would recognize now came to be. We put in a small, slightly elevated flat area on the lower lawn for yoga and planted a number of wildflower beds. The goal at that stage was to create a flexible space for the beginnings of activation. We were dipping our toe in the water to figure out what worked not just for that phase, but what could work long term.
To create a vision of what Bailey Park could become, Wexford Science & Technology and the Innovation Quarter team went to Bryant Park to meet Dan Biederman, an expert in the field of placemaking. Biederman and his team are credited with creating one of the most successful public spaces in the U.S.—Bryant Park in New York City.
Schwab: Our goal was to learn how space, design and programming can influence people’s interaction. Walking into Bryant Park you’re immediately struck by the diversity of the people and park uses and that everyone seems comfortable in that physical environment. That was a huge learning experience for me—programming and design through a lens of diversity. I was fortunate enough to spend a number of days training with Biedmeran and his staff on the topic of placemaking with the goal of taking this knowledge back to Winston-Salem and applying it to Bailey Park.
Pleasants: That was the kickoff for asking questions like ‘What do we want in a public space?’ We hired Biederman as a placemaking consultant to help us think through the use of space, held a series of community meetings about programming in the park, working with Stimmel. Similar to Bryant Park, we envisioned Bailey Park being a space that was well-maintained with nice facilities that lent itself to people being naturally drawn to it.
In addition to the vision of how the space would feel aesthetically, Bryant Park also gave the team guidance as to how to make the space interact with its inhabitants … and vice versa.
Schwab: There was so much information to take in and apply. We learned that people are more likely to sit and stay in an area if they have access to an easily movable seat, to program toward women and the importance of water and shade to any physical space. Something as simple as a lightweight folding chair could subconsciously influence how long a person might sit and stay in a physical space. This application of social research was really striking.
Turner: What is comfortable to walk on? How do you get someone to walk in a certain direction? How do you get people to stop and pay attention to something? How do you keep a place safe and protect sight lines? There were a lot of different components to be considered when it came to designing the landscape architecture.
In 2013, the Innovation Quarter and Stimmel teamed up with STITCH Design Shop, at the time an up-and-coming local architecture firm looking to gain a foothold in the market, to help design the structures for the upper lawn. This included the amphitheater and a bathroom, office/storage building.
Pete Fala (partner, STITCH Design Shop): We had just started our business not long before we heard about the park. We knew there was going to be some element of a stage and a small building. I remember thinking that would be an amazing opportunity and project for STITCH, because it was small, but it had the opportunity to be very transformative for the city and very much in the public realm.
Schwab: The natural topography of the upper lawn really lent itself to the creation of a multi-purpose stage, which gives us the flexibility to program a variety of use, like music, dance, movies and even the occasional Halloween costume contest. Bailey Park has become many things, and that stage and its functionality are what allow that kind of variety.
Fala: We took a lot of steps to make the stage intimate and flexible. The panels on the back move, just like the chairs and tables. It’s customizable, which goes a long way toward giving a park a real sense of place. So, it can serve as the lunchroom for the Innovation Quarter. It can be the classroom for the medical students. It can be all these different things. Its scale is supportive of having a show or a small concert there, but not intimidating for a class or people who show up for lunch. It’s the perfect size.
While most elements from the block were removed, a few relics were actually incorporated into the design of Bailey Park.
Turner: There was an old concrete loading dock, which predated anything that was in the Bailey Park block at the time, and it offered the best glimpse of the skyline views to be had from the park. We decided to keep it and just integrate it into the upper lawn, and now it’s the back part of the stage, and you’ll often find people eating their lunch right on that spot. It’s a really good example of re-use of existing materials. We also kept an existing retaining wall, which now has the beautiful mural by local artist Laura Lashley.
Laura Lashley: My art studio used to be at Krankies and the one window we had faced Bailey Park. When I heard the area was going to be renovated, I never imagined how nice it would become. Once I knew I would be painting the retaining walls, I would look at the site from different angles in different types of weather. I chose colors that would be vibrant and soothing and go well with the surroundings. My inspirations were bursts of sun energy and windy skies.
In addition to designing the stage, STITCH also designed the maintenance/storage building, which also houses the restrooms (which were no afterthought).
Schwab: The design team was intentional about making the restrooms comfortable and welcoming. Another lesson that came through loud and clear from Biederman. We also created space in the building to meet the general maintenance and janitorial needs of the park. There’s also a small office, which serves as a flexible space for staff management.
Fala: (Laughs) We talked all along about a bathroom that is worthy of a flower vase inside. We didn’t want anyone going in there feeling like they were in your typical park bathroom. There are so many design choices between the lighting, to how the cedar joints align with the molding, all of it moving toward elegance and a feeling of safety.
Pleasants: One goal of the architectural design was to create unique structures that would draw people to the park visually. STITCH did a wonderful job using the roof lines to accomplish that goal.
Fala: But really, the roof is the biggest element of both structures, and they play such a big role in the feeling of the park entry. For example, instead of the roof of the storage building opening up toward the stage (which was in the original design), it opens up toward the entry. That decision about the roof form makes the park more inviting, especially at the [Fifth and Patterson] entrance. The building now acts as a kind of gateway into the park.
Bailey Park opened on April 11, 2015 with remarks from Innovation Quarter leaders, Mayor Allen Joines and a marching band from nearby Carver High School.
Pleasants: It was a special moment not just for us, but for the City of Winston-Salem, because Bailey Park was envisioned as this community-gathering place. It’s welcoming, green and open. And that was the feeling that day.
Schwab: Thankfully, it didn’t rain! The Carver High School band marched from Patterson Avenue all the way to the stage, which really set the mood. We also had food trucks, games, popcorn and lots of prizes. There was just this general sense of excitement at the event.
Fala: There was a real feeling of pride that day. Lots of people from throughout the city were gathered around the park. You saw all these people interacting, and you could feel what an amazing space this could be. That opening was one of those moments you could feel the tide turning in downtown Winston-Salem.
Schwab: This was the first time the Innovation Quarter started to have that neighborhood vibe with the neighbors, residents and tenants really interacting together. Innovation Quarter tenants were excited to have access to green space right outside of their offices and labs, residents in the area were excited to have a park right outside their homes.
V. Four Years In
Today, thousands of people file in and out of Bailey Park on a yearly basis. Some for a quick lunch at a food truck, others to enjoy the dozens of free community events like yoga or outdoor movies. For those who had a hand in its making, these are the opportunities to see how their work has helped create a new sense of place in the Innovation Quarter.
Pleasants: My favorite memory so far was an evening not too long after the opening. There was a local music festival with a group of young musicians playing and a nice mix of different people down on the lawn enjoying the music as the sun set behind the Bailey stage. For me it was an emotional moment. It was the realization of everything we wanted Bailey Park to be. It demonstrated the heart of not only Bailey Park, but also the Innovation Quarter.
Fala: My number one favorite moment since the park opened without a doubt was when the first Phuzz Phest (music festival) was held there. It was nighttime, and there were a lot of people in the park. I was there with my business partners in this place we had a hand in building. It was kind of a surreal moment where you get to watch people actually interact with your craft. You get to just sit back and watch, which is pretty amazing.
Schwab: The very first yoga event we held in Bailey Park we weren’t expecting that big of a turnout and then around 300 or so people show up. I just remember I was lying on the grass after class and everyone was silent, and I felt like I was sharing a special moment with everyone else out there. Playing a small part in the creation of this place has been incredibly rewarding.
Turner: For me, it’s just the typical sunny spring afternoon, where you see people pull out a blanket and have a picnic. You see kids, dogs and adults running around having fun. There’s a moment of satisfaction and reward. Watching how people interact with the landscape and the space always gives us an opportunity to learn and make improvements going forward.
Pleasants: Bailey Park has a vibe to it that is hard to describe. You just have to experience it by being there. Humans really do respond to inspiring places, and that’s what we wanted to build here. It was an honor to be a part of creating an inspirational space. And it takes a lot of different people with a lot of different perspectives to get there.