An Innovation District Transforms a City

Five Ways the Coal Pit at the Innovation Quarter Invigorates Winston-Salem
6 Minute Read

The Coal Pit at the Innovation Quarter once housed—you guessed it—the coal that fueled the factories and warehouses of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company.

For decades, this massive energy generator fed Winston-Salem’s economy as well—employing men and women alike, including a large percentage from the Black neighborhoods thriving nearby—until tobacco production moved out of the city and left this concrete reserve dormant for close to twenty years.

Then in 2018, the Innovation Quarter—one of the leading innovation districts in the world and home to medical innovation, startups, events, restaurants and more—and its development partner Wexford Science and Technology transformed the open area behind Bailey Power Plant and Bailey South into a gathering space for the community.

“As Winston-Salem grows and evolves, outdoor gathering spaces like the Coal Pit provide a unique and welcoming backdrop for people to continue to connect with one another and feel engaged with their community.”
—Lindsey Schwab, Director of Community Relations, Innovation Quarter

The Coal Pit is no longer “the pits,” to say the least. It’s a place that has helped revitalize Winston-Salem’s downtown area by focusing on local community assets, inspiration and potential to create a public space that promotes health, happiness and wellbeing.

Five ways the Coal Pit has transformed the city of Winston-Salem:

1. A Reimagined Retail Space

When you think of an innovation district, entrepreneurship and research probably come to mind. But the Innovation Quarter is more than just a place to work. It is also a place to live and play.

The Coal Pit is home to food and drink hotspots Cugino Forno Pizzeria, Incendiary Brewing Company and Black Mountain Chocolate. As a gathering space for the local community, tourists and entrepreneurs, it’s where families, friends and coworkers can grab a drink, enjoy a meal or indulge in a decadent dessert. During the pandemic, the Coal Pit has proven to be a place where COVID safety guidelines can be followed feasibly—both outdoors and indoors—because of its sweeping spaces.


Surviving COVID-19: How iQ Retailers Rallied to Stay Open During the Pandemic
For more on how to support local retailers, visit our COVID-19 Community Resources page.

2. Events that Strengthen the Community

iQ Fitness Friday at the Coal Pit
iQ Fitness Friday at the Coal Pit

The Coal Pit offers delicious food and drink, but it’s also an expansive, outdoor space that allows for community events of all kinds, from maker markets to music concerts and group exercise.

F45 Winston-Salem, a fitness community that focuses on HIIT training, hosts regular outdoor workouts in the Coal Pit. This training often includes complimentary classes like “iQ Fitness Fridays,” one of our annual signature event series, and free “test drives” and “bring a friend” workouts—all capped off with bashes featuring live DJs and vendors at the end of each month. 

“It is such a special space that draws in the community, helping create the energy that makes the iQ unique.” —Michael Boyer, Cushman & Wakefield

Owner Dee Duggan feels “truly blessed to have access to such an amazing outdoor space” during the pandemic. It has allowed F45 to “reach out to those in need of physical movement in a safe, social and fun atmosphere” during a time when “exercise helps individuals maintain their health, physically and mentally.”

After a good sweat, Incendiary Brewing Company and Gears and Guitars Music Festival can reignite your mind and body with free, live music in the Coal Pit. Grab a drink and enjoy the “Coalpit Live” music series, which returns to the Innovation Quarter on May 29, 2021!

Coal Pit Live at the Coal Pit.
Coal Pit Live, 2019

3. Gatherings and Celebrations that Boost Wellbeing

A birthday party, complete with unicorns!

Whether you’re celebrating a birthday, a graduation or a night (or day) out with friends and family, the Coal Pit has everything you need to get through a special occasion: pizza, beer, dessert and sunshine!

This spring, Black Mountain Chocolate moved its storefront to Bailey South, a new space in the Innovation Quarter developed by Front Street Capital, adding gourmet chocolate to the Coal Pit’s growing list of offerings.

Manager Tirra Cowan reflects upon opening a new space just as the city was coming out of a lockdown: “It posed challenges, but we felt very much welcomed by our new neighbors. The Coal Pit has given us access to a whole new group of customers that might have never visited our former space. It has also allowed us to expand our menu offerings and accommodate more customers.”

Now, you can even celebrate with a fancy chocolate-inspired cocktail from Black Mountain Chocolate’s new cocktail bar!

4. A Greenspace Rises from the Ashes

Planters at the Coal Pit.

Did you know that spending time in greenspaces might improve your health by fighting depression, anxiety, heart disease, diabetes, asthma, migraines and more?

Whether you call it a garden, a greenspace or an urban landscaping feat, the Coal Pit is a peaceful sanctuary to behold in downtown Winston-Salem. The outdoor seating area in the Coal Pit is overflowing with greenery that adds a lush softness to the remaining structures of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company’s factory.

“It was a very challenging concept to bring to life but has turned into a success. The good work
of staff and amazing tenants has proven that the Coal Pit is a regional draw for Winston-Salem.”
Christy Turner, Stimmel Associates

Stimmel Associates P.A. designed the garden, where every pot and planter is constructed of green building technology and materials, deeming it a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified landscape. With a mixture of native and adaptive shrubs, grasses and perennials, the garden, maintained by Blakley Landscape Service, was designed to flourish in every season—and is a food source for local birds, bees and butterflies. 

5. A Backdrop that Captures the City’s Identity

Photo credit: 1828 Collective

Durham has the American Tobacco Campus. Boston has Harvard Square. Seattle has Kerry Park. Winston-Salem? We’ve got the Coal Pit.

Tobacco may have built Winston-Salem, but modernity has claimed relics from this industrial period to form an identity that can’t be bought or replicated.

This sense of past and present defines our city, and the Coal Pit’s urban geography, landscaping and architecture—along with the Innovation Quarter’s strong ties to the “City of Arts and Innovation” itself—puts Winston-Salem on the map and into your photo album.

Structural elements at the Coal Pit make for a quintessential “Camel City” photoshoot, whether you need a headshot, want to memorialize a special occasion or simply enjoy playing around behind or in front of the camera. If you want to capture an engaging photo, a snapshot at the Pit is sure to gain likes and loves from all your friends.

Check out more picture-perfect locations in the Innovation Quarter.

The Coal Pit: Then & Now


Learn more about community gatherings and events in the Innovation Quarter on our calendar, including our ongoing signature events: Innovation & Cinema, Fitness Fridays, Sunset Salutations, Food Truck Fridays and iQ Community Bike Rides.