09/25/05 — Banquet marks downtown achievements

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Banquet marks downtown achievements

By Dennis Hill
Published in News on September 25, 2005 2:07 AM


News-Argus City Editor

Members of the Downtown Goldsboro Development Corp. gathered on the courthouse lawn Friday evening to celebrate a year of achievements and to look ahead to the future.

The past year was not a completely successful one, said outgoing DGDC President Jimmie Edmundson, who noted the fire that destroyed the Paramount Theater as one of those less-than-happy moments.

But the pluses outnumbered the minuses by far, and the loss of the landmark theater has given the downtown community a rallying point, he said.

"We are very pleased to have the support we need to rebuild," Edmundson told the crowd of about 150 people.

Edmundson pointed to the establishment of 13 new businesses in the past year and the decision by the Fraternal Order of Police to establish a calling center that will employ as many as 200 people as proof that downtown is alive and thriving.

A recent survey has shown that there is only a 6 percent vacancy rate in downtown buildings, Edmundson said, adding that the figure might surprise some people who see downtown as something less than a viable business environment.

"We feel really good about that vacancy rate," he said.

Edmundson said a master plan developed during the past year by the corporation will prove a milestone in the redevelopment of downtown. It details the strong and weak points of the downtown area and will help the downtown group in its efforts to build a strong economic base, he said.

"This is a huge step forward for the future of downtown Goldsboro," he said. He added that having the plan in place will help coordinate efforts and prevent fragmentation of resources. "If we get focused on individual projects, we're going to find we've wasted a lot of time, money and energy."

Work on implementing the master plan will begin early next year, he said.

Edmundson noted two awards the DGDC received from the state Department of Commerce in the past year: one for its fund-raising efforts and another for converting the former Wachovia Bank building into the Wesleyan College classroom building. He also pointed to the expansion of City Hall that is expected to be completed within a few months and the number of historical properties that are being restored.

Edmundson said the reorganization of the DGDC's Restructuring Committee under the leadership of chairman Don Chatman was a key to returning some of those properties to tax-paying businesses.

"We're expecting a lot of good things to happen with that committee," Edmundson said.

Edmundson listed the events sponsored each year by the DGDC that bring people to downtown, such as the summer concert "jams," the holiday trolley tours, the annual De-Rail-A-Bration and others. He invited members to recruit friends to attend a speaker's forum Nov. 8 that will focus on the efforts other cities have made to revitalize their downtowns.

Edmundson closed his remarks by refuting statements that downtown is not safe.

"This is one of the safest places we have in Wayne County," he said, gesturing to the well-lit streets surrounding courthouse square. "Our job is to communicate that to other people in the county."

Mark Webb was elected the new president of the DGDC. In his remarks, he noted his youth in downtown Goldsboro and the strong feelings he has for the neighborhood.

Webb recalled a statement made by an opponent of city annexation who had declared at a public hearing that "not another dollar should be spent downtown."

"I can't grasp that concept at all," Webb said, adding that his family moved to downtown from the area being considered for annexation. "We love this area and everything it has to offer."

"I truly believe that downtown is the heart of our county," Webb said, adding that downtown provides as many jobs as Wayne Memorial Hospital, O'Berry Center or Goldsboro Milling Co., three of Wayne County's major employers.

"It's a public and social place," he said.

The organization recognized a number of people for the contributions they have made to downtown.

Webb was named the DGDC Board Member of the Year. J. Darby Wood was honored as the group's Most Valuable Supporter for his sustained contributions to its many events. Ernest Mansour and Eric Doggett were named the Outstanding Investors, and Goldsboro Drug Co. was named the Outstanding Merchant.

Stagestruck, the Young People's Theatre Group, was chosen as the organization's Advocate of the Year and drew special applause for its decision to remain downtown despite the loss of the Paramount. The Independent Order of Odd Fellows Lodge received two awards, one for Historic Preservation, and the other for Design Improvements to its building on John Street.

The city of Goldsboro's General Services Department was recognized as the DGDC's Volunteer of the Year for its day-in, day-out help with the group's projects. Stephanie Ross received the Lifetime Achievement Award for her years of service to the organization.

Mayor Al King closed the evening's festivities by referring to remarks made by the mayor of Charleston, S.C., Joe Riley, upon a recent visit to Goldsboro. Charleston is recognized nationally for its successful efforts at downtown revitalization.

"Always realize that your downtown is the heart of your city," King said, quoting Riley. "If the heart dies, then your city dies."

"I'm committed to downtown," King said. "You are going to continue to see great things going on in the city of Goldsboro."