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Wake Forest Preps for the Presidential Debate

Tens of millions of voters in the United States and curious citizens around the world will get a glimpse of Winston-Salem on Oct. 11. Granted, it won't be much of a glimpse, probably no more than the inside of a chapel and maybe a look at a baseball field, but the economic boosters of the city are not going to pass up a chance to sell Winston-Salem to corporate decision makers and site selection consultants.

That night the second of the presidential debates is scheduled for Wait Chapel on the campus of Wake Forest University. It will be the second time Wake Forest has hosted a presidential debate, the first being back in 1988 when three determined undergraduates sold their university and the Commission on Presidential Debates that the school could do it. Based on that good experience, the commission had no qualms about returning this year.

Much has changed in Winston-Salem in the past dozen years. In 1988, there was no fiber optic telecommunications backbone snaking around the campus. And one could smell the workings of the city's largest employer, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. Today, Wake Forest has the reputation as one of the best Web-wired campuses in the nation. And R.J. Reynolds no longer manufactures cigarettes downtown. In fact, two of its old factories and research buildings have been converted into homes for high-tech businesses.

That is the image Winston-Salem is projecting. Just prior to the debate, Bob Leak Jr., president of Winston-Salem Business Inc., will send a targeted mailing to a 400-company list and a separate list of site selection consultants urging them to watch the debate. “We'll send them a memento from the community and a message saying something like, `While you are watching the debate, think of Winston-Salem,' ” says Leak. “I don't know that it will yield any direct inquiries, but it will be an awareness campaign, another reason to get them thinking about Winston-Salem.”

Gayle Anderson, president of the Winston-Salem Chamber of Commerce, says, “Our focus will be to position our community as being a technology, business-based community. We have a task force working to develop some media stories that could be used as sidebars, such as the types of companies that are here, or maybe some stories that will track with what the candidates have on their own agendas.”

The city's business leaders know the debate is only a one-night event; the candidates and the bulk of the press corps will blow in one day and leave the next. But there will be 1,500 reporters and high-powered politicians in town. City leaders are hoping that at least some of them will want some background on what is happening in Winston-Salem. Stephan Dragisic, convention sales manager for the Winston-Salem Convention and Visitors Bureau, says the city has 2,500 hotel rooms, which he estimates is more than enough for the press, Secret Service, and campaign entourages. “We've talked with road construction crews to make sure there is no road work going on around Wake Forest so there will be no issues with any motorcades,” says Dragisic. “We've talked with the state Department of Transportation to make sure I-40 and Silas Creek Parkway will be looking their best. You will see a lot of mulch.”

The only event associated with the debate that the public will be able to attend will be MTV's “Rock The Vote,” which will be at Ernie Shore Field, the city's minor league baseball stadium. The debate will be shown on large screen televisions set up on the field, and “Rock The Vote” will be webcast by Yahoo!. Nothing is being left to chance. Wake Forest is having a temporary electric sub station installed next to Wait Chapel, which will be active concurrent with electric generators. — Clint Johnson


Charlotte's Mint Museum Moving Uptown

North Carolina's oldest art museum could soon have a new home in uptown Charlotte. After 64 years in the stately Eastover neighborhood, the Mint Museum of Art's trustees have voted to move out of the old U.S. mint building and to a new facility in the heart of the city's growing cultural district. “The dream is within reach to have a building to enhance all the collections we have and the ones aim to collect,” says Neill McBryde, past chairman of the museum's board of trustees and now chairman of the expansion committee.

The strongest argument for a move is the success of the Mint Museum of Craft+Design, a spin-off of the Mint that opened in the former Montaldo's building in uptown Charlotte last October. The facility already is outdrawing visitors to the more established museum. The craft museum is just a block from the Bank of America Corporate Center and walking distance from the Charlotte Convention Center and other center city arts offerings.

“The success of the Craft+Design museum has put to rest any concerns we had that possible museum visitors would see uptown as a canyon of towers with too many one-way streets and no parking,” says Phil Busher, the Mint's public relations director. “We are the last major cultural center in Charlotte that's not in an uptown site.”

The Atlanta firm of Alexander Haas Martin & Martin is conducting a feasibility study due in early November to determine whether the necessary $50 million can be raised by April 2001 to design and build a new museum. Consultants are interviewing community leaders and major donors to gauge financial support. Meanwhile, trustees are eyeing two potential sites in the cultural district.

The Mint's goal is to become a museum of American art. It wants to acquire significant paintings and furniture from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, and it also wants to improve the quality of traveling exhibits it brings to Charlotte. Because of specialized storage, security and climate needs, officials say it's ideal to design and build a new museum, rather than renovate an existing building.

That's how the current facility came to be the state's first art museum in 1936. The building now located on Randolph Road was originally a U.S. Mint, which opened in Charlotte in 1836. Gold coining stopped at the building during the Civil War and never resumed. Over the next 60 years the building served a variety of purposes, including Red Cross Headquarters during World War I. It was scheduled to be torn down in the middle 1930s when a group of organizers stopped the demolition and had it moved to the Eastover neighborhood, where it opened as the state's first art museum. — Laura Williams Tracy


Unifour Counties Consider Banding Together

Next year's legislature could entertain a request for an eighth economic development region to be formed in the state that would target four northwestern North Carolina counties. A concept that has been tossed around by officials in the Unifour area for several years — the formation of an economic development region that would include Alexander, Caldwell, Burke, and Catawba counties as well as several surrounding counties — was recently brought to the table during a planning session in Caldwell County. Officials say they would like to see the idea brought before the state legislature.

The state now has seven economic development regions. The four counties are in two of those regions: Burke and Caldwell counties are in the Advantage West Region, which includes 21 other counties, and Catawba and Alexander are in the Carolina's Partnership, which serves 10 counties, including Mecklenburg and those surrounding it.

Proponents of the new region say it would make sense to put the Unifour counties together in one region because they are so intrinsically linked economically. The counties share a combined labor force because residents commute among the counties to work. As the largest city in the Unifour, Hickory has for the past three decades been the retail hub of the four counties, with residents traveling to Hickory to shop, dine and for entertainment.

Proponents also have suggested that Watauga, Ashe, Alleghany and Wilkes counties also be included. With those eight counties, the proposed new region would have several colleges, plus a major state university in Appalachian State University in Boone, five community colleges and a major private university, Lenoir Rhyne College in Hickory.

The counties already work together on recruiting industry and other ventures. Caldwell County and its county seat, Lenoir, and Burke County and Morganton recently joined forces to create an airport authority. “We have a powerhouse economic engine here, and we would like to be the ones driving it,” says Caldwell County Commissioner Herb Greene. “It is not that we don't think the other regions we are part of are doing a good job.”

The vastness of the AdvantageWest region has been one reason behind the quest for a new region. The counties that would be in the new region are on the outer fringes geographically of the existing region and of the Charlotte Partnership region, they say. They also point out that the Charlotte Partnership is the only region that has two metropolitan statistical areas: Hickory and Charlotte. Greene says he and other people have been talking with legislators and hope the issue will go before the legislature next year. “I don't think we have any choice but to do something because people who move here don't see the boundaries between the counties,” he says. “ They see us as one area.” — Charlene H. Nelson


RDU Gains New Direct Flights to California

Competition among airlines for passengers at Raleigh-Durham International Airport is booming, and Triangle techies are reaping the benefits. In September, Southwest Airlines began one-stop service to San Jose, Calif., a neighbor of technology mecca Silicon Valley. One week prior, Morrisville-based Midway Airlines announced it would offer non-stop service to the same city, beginning Nov. 7. “This is a big deal,” says Charlie Hayes, the president and CEO of the Research Triangle Regional Partnership. “Hats off to Midway.”

Robert Ferguson, Midway's president and CEO, says the service is possible thanks to the addition of two Boeing 737-700s, which can easily travel the approximate 3,000 miles to San Jose. The airline will offer two daily round-trip flights with an introductory round-trip fare of $298. One will depart RDU at 7:25 a.m. and arrive in San Jose at 10:25 a.m. Pacific time. The second leaves RDU at 5:55 p.m. and arrives at 8:55 p.m. Pacific time. — Kevin Brafford


Rodin Exhibit Sets Museum of Art Attendance Record

Lawrence J. Wheeler had high expectations for the Rodin exhibition. But even the director for the North Carolina Museum of Art was surprised that a record 304,066 visitors took in the exhibition April 16-Aug. 13 in Raleigh. The exhibition, titled “Rodin: Sculpture from the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Collection,” averaged 2,842 visitors per day during its 107-day run to see more than 110 pieces of work from Auguste Rodin, one of the most innovative and influential sculptors in the history of Western art.

“Everyone thought I had set an unattainable goal for the museum when I predicted 250,000 visitors to Rodin,” says Wheeler. “Not only did we meet that goal, but we far exceeded it, and we were able to expose the museum to North Carolina residents who have never visited us before. Just as important, our visitors had a positive experience.”

The close of the exhibition also marked the close of Festival Rodin, a 17-week celebration of the arts, culture, theater, dance, music and museums of the Triangle. The largest marketing effort for the arts in state history, Festival Rodin included the participation of the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences, Exploris and the Museum of Life and Sciences as well as other performing arts groups and cultural resource organizations throughout the Triangle.

In order to accommodate the demand for tickets, the museum opened its doors for 34 consecutive hours during the show's closing weekend. The “Round-the-Clock with Rodin” marathon began at 9 a.m. on Aug. 12 and included a free concert by Paris Combo and a free fireworks and laser show. Nearly 35,000 people visited the museum during the marathon. The previous attendance record for an exhibition at the museum was established last year by “Money to Moore: The Millennium Gift of Sara Lee Corporation.” It ran from Sept. 12 through Nov. 7 and drew 81,090 for its 50 days.

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