Clemmons residents unified in opposition to multi-use event center proposed at Tanglewood Park

Published 11:45 am Tuesday, August 3, 2021

By Jim Buice
For the Clemmons Courier

Forsyth County Manager Dudley Watts had to answer a lot of questions in last Wednesday night’s community meeting at the Red Barn in Tanglewood Park regarding a 50,000-square-foot agricultural multi-use event center proposed to be built in the park, but he gave one response that drew thunderous applause and a standing ovation.

“We will not put it here if you don’t want it here,” Watts said during a question-and-answer session following an overview of the project. “If this community doesn’t want the facility, I don’t believe the county commissioners would put it here.”

That’s exactly what the crowd that packed the barn wanted to hear, at least among all those who spoke, in the first of two public meetings after a story in the Winston-Salem Journal July 19 reported that Forsyth County was considering a big event center at Tanglewood — located near the horse stables in the park — that could be used for concerts, expositions and other events.

Some Clemmons residents then attended a briefing session of the county commissioners three days later to voice concerns over property values, increased traffic and changing the character of the park.

Forsyth County voters approved a 2016 bond referendum for parks and recreation that included $5 million for the design, development, planning and construction of an agricultural multi-use center located within an existing Forsyth County park — with the exact location to be determined.

In November 2020, county officials proposed a site at Tanglewood for the facility, but there has been no further news or chatter until recently.

“If we did not get wind of this, would this just have been passed through?” one woman asked. Those speaking were not required to give their name.

“I introduced it, the newspaper article came out with lots of concerns, and I never even tried to finalize it for the second (briefing) meeting,” Watts said, “and pulled it off the agenda for (last Thursday night’s meeting) what we’re doing tonight.”

In a barrage of comments, perhaps the most constant thread was the lack of information shared by the county.

“I don’t remember voting for such a thing,” said Allen Daniel, a resident of Clemmons West.

“Nobody knew,” another woman commented. “You’re not concerned what the people want. We don’t want it here.”

Another speaker brought up an early online petition with over 1,000 signatures and 300 comments against the project. “How many people does it take for you to listen to who don’t want it before you think it’s a bad idea?”

Watts admitted he was “blindsided,” assuming the public was aware of the center and Tanglewood being the destination — saying it checked the most boxes of all the county parks on the list and had “the most potential to break even” financially. That prompted others to suggest that the county might want to reconsider or get creative if this is not a good financial decision and that the money could be spent in a better way.

“That’s on me,” Watts said of the disconnect. “I apologize. We got started with this and had not heard anybody say but great things about it. The county loves this park. Staff loves this park. The county commissioners love this park. The county manager loves this park. You can beat us up over the transparency thing. We’re here tonight because we want to hear from you.”

And they sure did.

The initial plan called for the building to go up just beyond the Welcome Center and Shelter No. 2 near the existing horse barns in the middle of the park. It would be larger than both buildings (Annex and Education) at the Winston-Salem Fairgrounds.

Some at last Wednesday night’s meeting brought up having “agricultural” and “multi-use” in the description pertaining to the center — with questions about having events such as gun shows, tractor pulls and noisy concerts.

One man said, “You keep saying this park is for horses. Frankly, I’ll bet you not 1 percent of the people who come to this park have a thing to do with a horse.”

Another added, “I think you’ve taken the liberty of making it whatever someone wanted it to be. If you can break even on that event center with horses, I’d like to see it.”

Regarding the building itself, one man said, “This is a terrible eyesore. It is a disaster. It is a crime against nature.”

Jennifer Richardson, who lives on Tanglebrook Trail right beside the park, said, “On my front porch, I see Christmas lights (during the Festival of Lights), and you’re going to tear down every tree in between there, so I can have a clear view of a barn and a parking lot. I bought my house because of the accessibility to Tanglewood. Everybody in this neighborhood is going to lose their house value.”

What’s next for the county, after another public input session that was scheduled this week on Wednesday night at the Forsyth County Government Center?

“I think what will happen from here is unless a whole bunch of people in Clemmons who really want this show up at some meeting, I think we’ve got the Clemmons message,” Watts said. “We are searching for the best place to put this thing. And that’s what we’ve got to do at the staff level is go do that work. This is where we landed with the early recommendation. I am just so thankful that we didn’t get into the design.”