By Jeanne e. Fredriksen
When Wake Forest Mayor Vivian Jones took the podium at the packed Renaissance Centre to deliver the State of the Town Address on February 17, she focused on people, community, and growth. The 40-minute address was both upbeat and forward-looking.
A positive beginning set the tone: “Several organizations have ranked us as being a good place to live in one way or another,” Jones said. “You know you really have it made when NerdWallet ranks you one of the top five in anything!”
Jones took time to acknowledge the town’s natives, long-time residents, and “newbies.” She also spoke of the loss of town notables, including dedicated town employee Jon Ray; Hope Newsom, who championed the Senior Center; Steve Tarangelo, the beloved owner of LaForesta Café; Juanita Dent Core Hopkins, who lived to be 109 years old; and Barbara Brown, who led the creation of many parks and other facilities.
Wake Forest town employees were applauded for their dedication and service to the community, specifically the public works team, the police force, and planners and engineers who are instrumental in enhancing life through their participation in various events and programs.
Jones also spoke of the upcoming bond referendum. “At this point we are considering two bond referendums totaling about $25 million for streets, sidewalks, parks, and recreation facilities,” she said. Details are forthcoming, but as Jones acknowledged, the residents “will have the final input with (their) vote in November.”
Jones checked off an impressive list of accomplishments, goals that have been met, and things in the works.
To solicit residents’ input, an online forum called “What Do You Think Wake Forest” went live. The online suggestion box asks residents to submit their answers to posted questions. One result of that input is park restrooms will be open year-round starting this spring. Another request was for Pickleball courts, which will be installed at Wake Forest Middle School and at Flaherty Park. (Pickleball is a racquet sport that combines elements of badminton, tennis, and table tennis.)
The number of participants in town baseball programs has exploded, as has participation in basketball programs. The Arbor Day Celebration, Easter Egg Hunt, and Halloween Spooktacular continue to draw large crowds. Add to that the Mardi Gras Festival, classic car event, Farmers Market, plus White Street Brewery and Brooks Street Bowl.
Among the annual crowd pleasing events that spill out of downtown are Meet in the Street, the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party and Wake Forest Garden Club, the Tour of Artists, Friends of the Library Book Sale, Kiwanis Club Bingo Mondays at The Factory, and Rotary Club Comedy Night.
Younger residents are offered kid-centric programs as well. The Kids-in-Parks TRACK Trails program at Joyner Park, made possible by a grant from Blue Cross Blue Shield, encourages kids to “unplug” and record their hikes to earn incentives by exploring nature. A variety of programs presented in Wake Forest by the North Carolina Museum of Science gave hands-on learning opportunities to more than 225 children who participated in the Children’s Science Program.
Open space from the greenways to Joyner Park and more planned community developments are increasing the town’s desirability. A new town nursery at Joyner Park grows trees and shrubs to be transplanted to town properties. A Tree Steward program designed to maintain the town’s 14,000-tree urban forest works with the nursery, and 40 Tree Stewards now volunteer to plant trees in parks, greenways, and street corridors.
Other environmentally sensitive projects include filing for two Clean Water Management Trust Fund Grants and a Wake County Wide Open Space grant. A successful Adopt-A-Stream program assists in recording findings at specific sites.
As for the town itself, The National Main Street Program recognized the revitalization of Downtown Wake Forest along with economic growth and the protection of historic buildings. Public art now enhances the new streetscape, and plans are being made to include art on the greenways.
“Over the past three or four years, the Town has invested heavily in the Renaissance District and this investment has spurred over $6 million in private investment in the District since 2011,” Jones said. “We have seen a significant increase in the number of people visiting downtown. Many (downtown merchants) have reported that 2013 was one of their best years ever.”
The town’s arts and culture programming kicked into high gear with the purchase of the former Tuxedo Junction and adjacent space on Brooks Street. The property was transformed into the Renaissance Centre, which saw its grand opening in November 2013 with a full weekend of music, comedy, theater, and art. Beginning March 7, the Centre will hold “First Friday Flix,” and many more events and performances are planned.
To meet the goals laid out in the Strategic Plan for the town, Jones emphasized that flexibility and focus are essential. “We must keep our plans in front of us, reprioritize, add to them, and even change them when necessary, but all the while keep working toward the same goal, the development of our community.”
The Wake Forest State of the Town Address will be broadcast on cable channel 10 during March at 8 a.m., noon and 6 pm. It is also available on the Town of Wake Forest website at wakeforestnc.gov.
For information about The Renaissance Centre, go to wakeforestnc.gov/renaissance-centre.aspx