12/09/04 — Cities must embrace change, DGDC speaker says

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Cities must embrace change, DGDC speaker says

By Barbara Arntsen
Published in News on December 9, 2004 2:04 PM

It's great to have plans for revitalizing downtown, but it's even better to implement those plans.

That's the message Merrick Malone presented Wednesday at the Paramount Theater to an audience of civic and political leaders.

Malone, a developer and lawyer, is one of the owners of Harrison Malone Development Co. in Washington, D.C., which focuses on new construction and urban rehabilitation.

He was brought in by the Downtown Goldsboro Development Corporation to speak on how Goldsboro could continue its downtown revitalization efforts. He led the MCI Sports Arena project and assisted with the development of the $30 million Black Entertainment Television Corporate Offices and Studio. He has also served as D.C.'s deputy mayor of economic development and director of housing and community development.

"Goldsboro is succeeding in preserving the past and embracing change," Malone said. "The only constant is change, and if you don't embrace it, you won't survive."

He said his hometown of Alliance, Ohio was a painful example of what happens when a city balks at change.

Years ago, he said, the Ohio city was full of plants and factories and had full-time employment. The east and west sides of the town were joined together by Main Street.

"Life was good," Malone said. "Stores and theaters came together in the city. But the city leaders feared change, and they sent away Chrysler and General Motors when those companies wanted to come there."

It never occurred to the leaders, Malone said, that one day the United States would be exporting manufacturing jobs.

"They had no vision," he said. "Then they moved the high school so far on the west side that the east side began deteriorating."

Still, he said, the city leaders didn't learn anything.

When Wal-Mart decided to come to their town, the mayor said they would fight the company.

"I told them to partner with Wal-Mart and let them put the store on the depressed side of town," he said.

But the leaders were determined to keep the company out of the city limits.

"So Wal-Mart built on the west side, 100 feet outside of the city limits," Malone said. "The city got no tax revenue from the store, and now Main Street is full of wig shops and storefront churches."

Malone said that Goldsboro has visionaries, unlike his hometown.

But, he added, no city can survive without the public and private sector working together and following a plan.

"The survival of the community is linked to this partnership, and alone, neither can pull it off," he said.

Though a plan was critical, he warned against having a plan just for the sake of planning.

"Remember this," he said. "Planning is heavenly, but to implement is divine."

Malone said that a great plan superseded politics. He gave as an example the revitalization of Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C.

"It started with President Kennedy. He developed the Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corporation," Malone said.

And though it took 44 years, eight presidents and four mayors, the plan continued because it was solid, he said.

"Partnerships mean sharing vision, responsibility, risks and rewards," he said. "And people have a right to expect return on their investments."

Malone said that policies should promote objectives within the plan.

"If the goal is to preserve, don't destroy," he said.

He drew applause when he said everyone should work together to implement a plan if the goal was to have better racial balance in the schools.

Though there will always be "cynics, doomsayers and obstructionists," Malone said, positive change can be accomplished through hard work and creativity.

"I know you have some challenges, such as space and some deterioration," he said. "But you have energy and dedication. It's time to take a look at where you want to be and what it's going to take to get there."

In closing, Malone quoted the words of Chicago architect Daniel Burnham:

"Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men's blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will never die, but long after we are gone will be a living thing, asserting itself with ever-growing insistency. Remember that our sons and grandsons are going to do things that would stagger us. Let your watchword be order and your beacon beauty. Think big."