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Celebrating the Street and its Scape
Landscape Architecture by McGill Associates

Elizabeth (Liz) Whitmore, City of Sanford

Celebrating the Street and its Scape

Celebrating the Street and its Scape

The central business district of Sanford, North Carolina, was revived with newly designed streetscapes courtesy of McGill Associates in association with Downtown Sanford, Inc. and the Sanford Area Chamber of Commerce. Improving pedestrian linkages, enhancing parking, and embellishing the area were part of the effort that helped transform it into a very walking-friendly downtown.

Bang! Crackle! Fizz! These were the sounds heard following the 2nd Annual StreetFest, a daylong festival celebrating Downtown Sanford, which culminated in an impressive fireworks display. Originally just a celebration of the completion of the streetscape improvements in downtown in 2017, the 2018 version was a celebration of the street and what it has become: a pedestrian-friendly, complete street in downtown that has enhanced its sense of place for residents, improved its status as a destination for tourists, and solidified the downtown business district's customer base.

Championed by a "Sanford Matters" campaign conducted by Downtown Sanford, Inc. and the Sanford Area Chamber of Commerce, funding for the $6.7 million project was secured through a bond referendum, which voters approved in 2013. The downtown core while viable had been in a holding pattern due to the deferred maintenance of its infrastructure; private investors were reluctant to invest in a downtown that had been neglected by the public sector for so long. By making public improvements, it was felt that a conducive environment for economic redevelopment would be established as well as increase the opportunities for the arts to thrive by creating a learning and cultural landscape.

The project area encompassed most of the Downtown Sanford Historic District, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. These properties enjoy the unique opportunity to be restored using both federal and state tax credits, giving private developers one more tool for the toolbox to help reinvigorate downtown. Construction on the streetscape began in May 2015 and finished in October 2016.

Celebrating the Street and its Scape

Almost all of the Downtown Sanford Historic District, which with nearly 100 historic properties, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, benefitted from the stamped asphalt crosswalks, granite curbs and brick-banded sidewalks that were specified throughout.

Celebrating the Street and its Scape

Cracked and uneven sidewalks planted with extensive plant materials were redone with stained concrete sidewalks and evenly spaced trees in tree grates. Areas deemed unsafe due to lack of lighting now have pedestrian traffic at night thanks to the period light posts that were installed.

Celebrating the Street and its Scape

Right: Gathering spaces with seat walls were a key part of the overall design. Of the more than 145 trees that were planted around the downtown, the species included : Zelkova serrata 'Green Vase', Sugar Maple, Flowering Cherry, Chinese Pistache, Gingko, and Thornless Honey Locust 'Shademaster'. Each block was designated with a different tree in order to create identifiable street corridors as well as avoid disease that would spread rapidly if only one type of tree was planted.

Designed by McGill Associates, a multi-disciplinary consulting, engineering, and landscape architecture firm, the plans included decorative asphalt, mast arm traffic signals, underground utilities, curbs of real stone, outdoor gathering spaces, curb-extensions for traffic control, improved parking facilities, decorative solid waste receptacles and benches, and the planting of new urban friendly street trees. More than 145 trees were planted to establish urban canopies that provide shade without blocking storefronts.

The economic results spurred by the streetscape improvements were almost immediate as several investors purchased and/or renovated several vacant buildings, including Duke Lifepoint Hospital for administrative offices, Sanford's first microbrewery, and a 20,000-square-foot mixed use building with apartments on the 2nd floor and retail/office space on the 1st floor. While these were certainly the largest, it wasn't the only investment spurred or at least pushed along by our streetscape project; additionally, downtown Sanford saw an upswing in small business owners reinvesting in themselves including more than 10 facade improvements and 6 building rehabs.

Celebrating the Street and its Scape

The city of Sanford reports that since the completion of the downtown transformation, private investments to improve exisiting businesses have neared $500,000 and property that held little interest prior to the project are now attractive to outside backers: many of them having already been purchased for redevelopment.

Celebrating the Street and its Scape

The improvements provided the impetus for the creation of many events such as "Art in the Alley" where local residents gather on Steele Street, the area's main thoroughfare, to express creativity.

The streetscape upgrades also lent themselves as a canvas to several public art improvements. Spearheaded by City of Sanford Appearance Commission, 4 historic murals have been painted since the streetscape's completion. The renovated Charlie Watson Lane, a mid-block alley along Downtown's main corridor, Steele Street, provides the perfect backdrop for events, such as the kid centric "Art in the Alley," a bi-annual event promoting the arts to Sanford youth. On Moore Street, a road that overlooks Depot Park, three pergolas were installed with metal porch swings so that downtown patrons could sit back, enjoy the view and relax. As part of the upgrades to the electrical services, large panel boxes were positioned at strategic locations throughout downtown that had the capacity to handle the needs for special events such as music concerts and food truck rodeos. To complement the streetscape efforts, the city also recently installed way finding signs, directing natives and visitors alike to downtown points of interest as well as off-street parking locations.

To say that the streetscape project has been a success is an understatement; it has been recognized statewide and become a model for other communities. The project was awarded the 2017 Best Outdoor Space Improvement by the North Carolina Main Street Center and a 2016 Outstanding Project Award by the North Carolina Urban Forest Council. Plans are underway to add additional off-street parking and improve connectivity to other parts of downtown and surrounding neighborhoods by possibly adding some bike lanes to existing streets and installing a greenway along a creek that runs to city hall and eventually to the Deep River, the northern border of Lee County. Downtown Sanford, Inc. will soon start a rebranding campaign to capture on the momentum of the redevelopment of the area. The sky is the limit for downtown Sanford, fireworks and all.

As seen in the August 2018 issue of LASN Magazine

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May 21, 2019, 12:38 am PDT

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