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Recent UNCG graduates design innovative outdoor dining to help restaurants

A small group of NC Main Street program students are finding solutions for small cities across the state struggling to stay afloat.

GREENSBORO, N.C. — If you drive into downtown Greensboro, you'll see the innovation and creativity the pandemic has brought about, including elaborate and eloquent street dining.

However, some smaller cities across North Carolina don't have access to the same resources to bring these ideas to life.

A small group of recent UNCG graduates is finding solutions for cities with populations of 50,000 or less that are struggling to stay afloat during the pandemic.

“These really small towns are over-looked in North Carolina," said student Sinaya Lawson. "And with COVID if anything it's hitting these small towns harder." 

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To keep them afloat, UNCG interior architecture professor Travis Hicks and his students partnered with the NC Main Street Program to help small towns repurpose underused outdoor spaces.

 “As soon as the call went out for towns who were looking for COVID-related design assistance we had like 12 or 13 projects overnight,” Hicks said.

The town of Rutherfordton is one of them.

The students designed a 3D rendering to repurpose an empty lot downtown.

Town Manager Doug Barrick said it’s going to transform the main block of downtown Rutherfordton.

“If it wasn't for them we wouldn't have the vision to really craft a new opportunity for this wonderful space in our downtown,” Barrick said.

In 2021 the lot will be a lively space with a covered pavilion, outdoor gathering and dining spots.

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"Our goal is to really find a way to utilize this space for our business community for community gatherings and provide a space that's pandemic free so that businesses can weather the storm by moving outside,” Barrick said.

Barrick said the 3D rendering was just approved by the town's council.

The city of Albemarle is also using the students' designs to transform one of their downtown alleyways.

"What we are doing is ground breaking,” said student Alexander Nguyen

The city of Hendersonville is implementing one of the students' parklet design.

“We have started something that can evolve into much more,”  said student Bianca Jenkins

That's not all the students are working on.

Those in the Main Street Program are creating strategies and designs that are enclosed or have heating to protect folks from the weather in the winter.