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Great Places award winners honored in Raleigh 

The North Carolina chapter of the American Planning Association honored the 2014 Great Place award-winning communities at an event held in conjunction with the League’s Town Hall Day on June 4.

The Great Places in North Carolina Award Program was created in 2012 to recognize and highlight North Carolina’s great places and the people who created them. This year’s award winners were Apex, Burnsville, Hendersonville, Morganton, Wilson and Winston-Salem.

"All of these Great Main Streets are vibrant centers of commerce and community," said Ben Hitchings, president of the Association. "Through this program, we celebrate great places in our state and the local partnerships that have made these main streets a focal point for community life."  

Awards are given in two divisions: People’s Choice and the Professionals’ Category. The People’s Choice awards are chosen by popular vote in an online contest, and the Professionals’ Category is decided by a panel of experts including planners, professors and other executives.

The People’s Choices winners were Morganton for Great Main Street and Burnsville for Great Public Place.

Union Street in Downtown Morganton is home to Historic Burke County Courthouse and Marquee Cinemas, which is one of the few downtown theaters in the state. It’s one of the four main thoroughfares in Morganton and is home to many businesses and historic building dating back to the 1920s.

“It has meant everything to our community. It’s the mecca for Morganton’s existence,” Mayor Mel Cohen said.

Burnsville’s Town Square is host to a plethora of festivals and fairs including the Mount Mitchell Crafts Fair, the square’s signature event which is in its 58th year and accommodates 200 artists and 25,000 visitors in a town with a population of less than 2,000.

“We invite you to do what many people do: come to visit for a day and stay for a lifetime,” Burnsville Mayor Theresa Coletta said.

The Professionals’ Category winners were Apex, Winston-Salem and Hendersonville all for Great Main Streets.

North Salem Street in Downtown Apex is the center of Apex’s central business district and part of the National Register Historic District, which is home to 20 National Register contributing structures. The many restaurants, boutiques, art galleries, antique shops and community festivals keep North Salem Street busy all day.

“There’s a lot of interesting things in Downtown Apex,” Mayor Pro Tem Gene Schulze said. “It’s the heart of Apex.”

Winston-Salem’s Fourth Street is the culmination of a century’s worth of history and dedication of city leaders investment. Fifteen years ago, Fourth Street was empty at 5 p.m., but now the city’s largest festivals are centered here, as are many of its best restaurants, bars, cafes, and most desirable places to live and work.

“We jokingly say that downtown is our 20-year overnight success because sometimes it takes those 20 years to turn the city around,” Mayor Allen Joines said.

Hendersonville’s community leaders took proactive steps to counter the 1970s changing retail trends, and the most visible was the redesign of Main Street. The redesign took the street from a four-lane highway to a two-lane street with ample parking and pedestrian space. This project, which debuted in 1978, helped downtown maintain its role as an important retail destination in the community.

“It’s hometown for all of us,” Mayor Barbara Volk said.

Finally, the panel of experts awarded Wilson the Great Main Street in the Making award for the town’s innovative work downtown. Downtown Wilson is being revitalized around a strategy of leveraging the unique community assets of Greenlight, the community owned broadband gigabit service, and the Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park, a sculpture park, to create an Arts and Innovation District lined by Main Street, the Avenue of the Sciences and the Avenue of the Arts. Wilson is seeing private investment in downtown in earnest, with $20 million dollars in historic property redevelopment in the works.

“We’ve put a lot of work into this, and it’s really starting to pay off,” Downtown Development Director Kimberly Van Dyke said.