More than 300 people, sitting on yoga mats in a dry, grassy meadow in Bailey Park, reached up toward the open sky, then out over one extended leg; the other leg was bent with the foot against the inside of the extended leg. A soft breeze cooled the air, and the sun graciously ducked behind clouds for a moment.
Just a few short years ago, that meadow in the lower part of the park was a bog. Attempts at yoga classes in 2013 saw five or six brave practitioners looking for dry places to lay their mats.
Now, film screenings, concerts, food trucks, 5k runs and all sorts of festivals regularly draw hundreds of attendees to the gentle hills in the green space at 445 Patterson Ave.
On Wednesday, Brynne’s Frozen Yogurt; Taste the Caribbean; Hoot’s Beer Co.; Chad’s Chai, a tea seller; and Village Juice circled up to feed and slake the thirsts of the apres-yoga crowd. Other vendors, such as Lilaco, an e-commerce clothing store and event sponsor, stood ready to respond to customers’ desires.
Bailey Park, the Wake Forest Innovation Quarter’s outdoor break room, has become a genuine public gathering place for downtown workers to take their lunch and for people from all parts of Winston-Salem to gather after hours to recreate, socialize and enjoy the skyline view.
“It’s a great way to spread the word about our brewery,” said Eric Weyer, 40, a co-owner of Hoots. “These events reach a new market. A lot of them are transplants, and they don’t know a lot about the city yet. Hoots is a destination, we’re kind of hidden.”
Hoots Roller Bar, home of the beer company, is off of Northwest Boulevard on Mill Works Street.
“The guys who do the events here have been great to us,” Weyer said.
“I love Bailey Park,” said Alli Schaner, 24, who works at Hoots. “It think it’s great for Winston-Salem. A lot of places don’t have outdoor amphitheaters like this.”
Michele Sturtz, 44, is the owner of PAZ Studios, which provides the monthly yoga classes at the park.
“It’s allows us to give back to the community and to bring yoga to people who might not have been to a studio,” Sturtz said. “If they like it and are inspired, they can come to the studio. It expands the yoga community.”
Elliott Watlington from PAZ teaches the Bailey Park classes. Two other teachers from the studio demonstrate from a small stage while Watlington circulates among the students who come in all ages, sizes and levels of ability.
Steve Zucker, 56, has lived in Winston-Salem for about a year.
“This was an adventure,” he said after the class. “I like yoga and I like being outdoors. I’m not a real experienced yoga guy, but it was nice being in a big group with all levels of students.
“This is a great use of the space. It brings the community together.”
Lindsey Schwab, director of community relations for the Innovation Quarter, is in charge of programming events in the shared areas of the quarter and events that are available to greater Winston-Salem. That includes curating the sponsors and vendors.
“We look for people who are in line with our mission, which is ‘to drive economic growth and build vibrant community,’” Schwab said.
Build it right
Graydon Pleasants has been a consultant with the Innovation Quarter since 2001 when it was called Piedmont Triad Research Park. His attribution on the quarter’s website is real estate development, Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center.
“Bailey Park is named for its proximity to the Bailey Power Plant,” Pleasants said. “The Bailey brothers built one of the generators that made power for tobacco manufacture. Reynolds Tobacco gave that property and the land across Patterson Avenue to the Research Park.”
For years, concrete and metal buildings stood where the green space is now. Evidence of manufacturing and industry cluttered Patterson Avenue at Fourth Street where the park now sits.
“The first thing we had to do was take down those steam pipes, power lines and wires over the street,” he said. “It was quite a mix-up of industrial power distribution. Bailey powered everything.”
The property that powered tobacco manufacture now powers social capital and collaboration.
“We worked very hard to make it a community gathering place that could handle intimate events on the stage and larger events on the lower lawn like Gears and Guitars,” Pleasants said. “Lindsey (Schwab) and I and many other good partners spent many hours designing the grounds and the stage area.” Stimmel Associates designed the park.
Gears and Guitars is a rock music festival that accompanies the Winston-Salem Cycling Classic, a bicycle race held annually since 2014 in and around Winston-Salem.
Schwab and Pleasants studied with Dan Biederman whose renovation of Bryant Park in New York City is a beacon for place-makers. They also studied the work of William H. Whyte who wrote “The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces.”
“He’s the godfather of place-making,” Schwab said.
“We and our partners at Wexford went around the country and looked at best practices for innovation districts,” Pleasants said. “One of the things was a necessity for the community to come together and relax.
“There was a big solar eclipse party here last weekend. … We’ve tried to make it as inviting and attractive as we could, because it is the front door to the Innovation Quarter.”
Biederman and Whyte don’t advocate just building it and they will come but building it right. One of the ways they measure “right” in Bryant Park is by the number of women who show up there daily.
Intentional place-makers say that at least a 50-percent daily attendance by women indicates that people overall feel safe and comfortable in a space.
Events such as yoga classes, family films and Sowing Seeds, a children’s festival set for mid-September — and nice restrooms — are the kind of things that draw women.
Instead of having benches bolted into concrete, the park has movable tables and chair. Pleasants said that the ability to arrange seating for conversation has been shown to be important to women.
“And we haven’t lost a chair yet,” he said.
Besides building community, part of the quarter’s mission is “to drive economic growth,” Schwab said. The office space and business incubators in the quarter are designed to bring diverse people into conversation.
The owners and organizers have the same intention for the park.
“It’s become a place for the broader community to come and a place for the Innovation Quarter people to interact with local people to get to the next big idea,” Pleasants said. “Green space is an opportunity to create and design a place for face-to-face interaction that can lead to collaboration.”
Schwab does a survey at the end of each year to get feedback on the past year’s programming.
“We’re always looking to refine programming and seating,” she said. “People feel much more engaged with the city, much more engaged with the city as a place where they live and work through the programming at Bailey Park.”
Except for Gears and Guitars, the programming is all free. “It’s also available for people to engage for their own events,” Schwab said. “We’re not the only programmers. It’s available for the community.”
Schwab joined the Innovation Quarter in 2013. She has a bachelor’s degree in communication and creative writing from the College of Charleston (S.C.). She has continued to study social research and place-making techniques.
“I am extremely thankful for the opportunities I’ve been given,” she said. “Not only have I learned a great deal, but I’ve met the most wonderful people in this role. I take a great deal of pride in what we’ve accomplished as a team here.”
The Innovation Quarter will open another public amenity in the fall. Long Branch Trail, once a Norfolk Southern railroad line, is a 1.7-mile pedestrian and bicycle trail. It will run from Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. to the newly opened Salem Creek Connector where pedestrians and cyclists can access the Salem Creek Greenway.
Schwab will program for it, focussing on health and wellness.
She and Pleasants said they haven’t yet encountered any catastrophes in the park. Schwab worries about the weather, a perpetual bugaboo for those who plan outdoor events.
“The worst would be torrential rain before an event and people doing yoga in wet grass,” Pleasants said.
Fortunately, many outdoor events can be moved into the Biotech Place’s atrium, 575 N. Patterson Ave., in case of inclement weather.
And the best?
A Phuzz Phest show in April 2015 inaugurated the stage in Bailey Park. The locally produced series was held throughout Winston-Salem 2011-2016.
“My favorite memory is the first Phuzz Phest concert on that stage,” Pleasants said. “I looked around and saw all these people having a great time. That’s when I knew we got it right.
“To me, the heart of Bailey Park was on display.”