Mt. Olive downtown project boosted
By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on June 30, 2004 2:02 PM
MOUNT OLIVE -- The face of downtown Mount Olive will continue to change for another year.
The Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation has granted funding for two state officials to continue working another year with Mount Olive's Small Town Development Committee to help revitalize downtown.
The town board will be asked to pass a resolution for the project to continue for a second year.
The announcement of the grant came Tuesday night during a meeting at the Mount Olive fire station. The state officials, Bob Murphrey and Evangeline Ezeilo, will continue to visit in the coming year to bring technical assistance. They work for the N.C. Department of Commerce.
"We're really looking forward to working with you next year," said Murphrey.
He told the group of 40 people about the advancements made already in Mount Olive. Each of the four towns in his pilot project has at least two new businesses and two buildings under renovation. There are 50 new jobs in each of the four communities.
Much has been done in Mount Olive, and the pilot program hasn't even been going a full year yet, said Patti O'Donoghue, the committee's chairman.
"We're putting something in place that's going to live beyond us," said Mrs. O'Donoghue about the committee, which started working on sparking life into downtown in July of 2003.
She shared a vision statement developed by County Commissioners Chairman J.D. Evans that goes through 2015. It envisions passenger rail service and a rail museum, adequate parking, a mix of stores and restaurants on both sides of the railroad tracks, shop owners living above their stores and "Welcome to Mount Olive" signs at several entrances.
The committee found 19 business vacancies at the beginning of the project, and today, there are very few vacancies, said Dwayne Parvin, chairman of the Design Subcommittee. "People are looking at the ones we have," he added. "From a year ago and now, you can walk through and see a change in attitudes."
The design vision for downtown in the coming year is to widen the street in front of Oliver's Restaurant by installing brick pavement for parallel parking on the restaurant side and to install underground wiring for period lighting.
Mount Olive merchants have started holding an open house to bring more people downtown to shop. The first one held in November was very well attended, said Charles Brown, chairman of the Promotions Subcommittee. Another one is planned for November.
People from all over Mount Olive are becoming involved in the project, he said. He quoted David Edwards at Bobby Denning Furniture store about why. Edwards said that if the heart of the tree is healthy, the limbs are going to be healthy too.
"We want input," said Brown. "We want to know what you think will bring people to the downtown area?"
Changing the economy
More than a dozen prospects are looking at downtown to open businesses, and David Kornegay, chairman of the Economic Restructuring Subcommittee. Six new businesses have already opened. Five buildings are being rehabilitated, he said, and the contagious positive attitude has drawn more people who want to join the project.
The subcommittee gathered demographic information and translated that into products and services that were not being adequately provided downtown. It showed Mount Olive was only capturing 10 percent of its potential business. Shoppers were going other places, like Goldsboro and Clinton.
Mount Olive Mayor Ruff Huggins named several things the committee wants to accomplish in the coming year, like re-doing the 100 block of East James Street, refurbishing the 50-year-old planters downtown and repairing brick work. The historic fountain downtown may also be refurbished and made "winter-proof," and Mount Olive may become a part of the Civil War Trail.
Robert Shepard of Southern Bank is forming a community development corporation, which should be in place by the end of the year. He hopes to form a committee to help find ways to provide low- to moderate-income housing, and he is developing a $1 million loan pool for downtown start-up and existing businesses.
Mrs. O'Donoghue presented a sign-up sheet for those interested in working with one of the subcommittees. The sheet will be available at the Mount Olive Area Chamber of Commerce office. "If you have even a little interest I think you'll enjoy it," she said.
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