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W-S: Finance committee approves capital projects

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Finance committee approves capital projects

It suggests that officials OK $14.5 million to pay for improvements to city

By Victoria Cherrie

Journal Reporter

The Winston-Salem Police Department needs a new firing range.

The Benton Convention Center needs more than a million dollars in repairs, and city officials say that Bowman Gray Stadium needs a new field house.

The finance committee of the Winston-Salem City Council recommended approval yesterday of up to $14.5 mil-lion to pay for these and other improvements across the city.

The capital projects, if approved by the full council, would be paid for with certificates of participation, which are like bonds. The certificates are backed by a revenue stream, such as city sales-tax revenue or assets, and they do not require a vote of the public for approval.

The $14.5 million includes $12 million for the city's share of various improvements, about $400,000 in proces-sing costs and $2.1 million, which is Winston-Salem State University's share of improvements needed for the Bowman Gray field house. The city is including the amount in the debt, but the university will pay it based on an agreement with the city, officials said.

The council will discuss the money and improvements at its regular meeting Monday night, and is then expected to set a public hearing for May 2 before a final vote.

The city identified the needs while working on the annual budget for fiscal year 2005-06.

The needs include $750,000 toward a new firearms-training center, a cost that would be shared with Forsyth County. Police officers are traveling to use other departments' ranges outside of Winston-Salem. That is becoming more difficult, and it is costing the city between $30,000 and $40,000 in overtime each year, Assistant City Manager Lee Garrity said.

“We are wearing out our welcome,” he said.

Other major improvements included in the list of needs are repairs to the convention center.

The company renovating the Adam's Mark Winston Plaza Hotel is asking the city for $1.5 million to renovate the Ben-ton Convention Center, which it now manages as part of a deal made with the city a year ago.

Noble Investment Group bought the hotel and agreed to invest $28 million, turning it into separate Embassy Suites and Marriott hotels. Under the deal, Noble would market the hotels with the convention center as a way to lure large corporate groups and money to Winston-Salem.

That will be difficult without significantly fixing up the convention center, which opened in 1969, a Noble spokesman said.

The company's list includes asking the city to pay about $225,000 to replace carpeting, about $280,000 for landscaping, lighting and a new mar-quee, and about $275,000 for an upgrade to the entrance.

Council Member Robert Clark took issue with a few of the earmarked improvements. Among them was about $130,000 slated for a 10 percent local match for a $1.3.million federal grant. If received, the money would pay for turning Union Station - now the home of Davis Garage - into a transportation center and a hub for commuter rail. The building is on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive.

“I think we're getting the cart before the horse on this one,” Clark said.

Clark also said he thought that the city should tread lightly on whether to include a $200,000 study on where to move all or part of the city yard to make room for the growing Piedmont Triad Research Park.

Doing a study too far in advance could be a problem, Clark said.

“If we do it now, five years from now it would be obsolete.”

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