GOING WITH THE FLOW: The 500 5th building is becoming a hub for entrepreneurs and promoting growth in Winston-Salem.

Author:Chase, Lindsey

The original GMAC insurance building, a staple of the Winston-Salem skyline for nearly four decades, is getting a makeover.

The 18-story tower with a glass exterior was purchased by 500 West Fifth LLC, a Flow Automotive Cos. entity, for $6.15 million in June 2017 and has been in a state of metamorphosis ever since. Renamed 500 W 5th, the renovations are the brainchild of local business leader Don Flow, owner of Flow.

Over the last two years, Flow has moved his business' headquarters to the top four floors and begun leasing the remaining levels while updating the interior. The company, which owns 37 car dealerships in eight cities and employs more than 1,200, has said it planned to spend at least $10 million renovating the building and lobby, while adding a fitness center and, eventually, a restaurant on the main level. Buddy Thomas, director of real estate for Flow, says no detail is overlooked.

Building tenants include Grubb Properties, FlyWheel Coworking, local nonprofit Winston Starts and private equity firm Teall Capital Partners. The ninth, 10th and 11th floors are vacant, but Flow is talking with potential tenants.

The third floor is leased by Wake Forest University, Salem Academy, Forsyth Country Day School and UNC School of the Arts, so students can work on projects in a communal environment.

"The core area of that floor is all common space that is divided up between training rooms, board rooms, breakout space and cafe space that all the universities on that floor can use for their purposes," Thomas says.

Flow sold the building adjacent to 500 W 5th, originally the South GMAC Tower, to Grubb Properties for the development of a 230-unit apartment complex and retail space. Demolition recently began on the two-year project.

Diversity in startups

One organization calling the building home is local nonprofit and startup incubator Winston Starts. Don Flow, the primary funder of the incubator, started the nonprofit in February 2018 and moved them in the same month.

The nonprofit develops startup companies over three and a half years, during which they work with industry members, a mentor team and Winston Starts board members to develop and implement a business plan. Starting with 12 founders in early 2018, the program has grown to 23 businesses involved and one graduate.

Companies involved in Winston Starts span a range of industries, including visual health care, digital, consumer goods and cybersecurity.

"Half of the founders within the...

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