11/09/05 — Speaker shares tips for saving city's downtown

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Speaker shares tips for saving city's downtown

By Andrew Bell
Published in News on November 9, 2005 1:52 PM

Goldsboro and Wayne County officeholders and economic development officials learned Tuesday how they could preserve the character of the city's downtown area, while still attracting tourists and new residents and businesses to its neighborhoods.

Ed McMahon spoke to members of the Downtown Goldsboro Development Corp. and the Wayne County Economic Development Commission and guests at the fourth annual Speaker's Forum at the Wayne County Courthouse.

McMahon is the Urban Land Institute senior resident fellow for sustainable development. The organization, which is based in Washington, D.C., is a non-profit education and research institute with a mission to provide responsible leadership in land use. McMahon is also the co-founder and former president of Scenic America, which is a non-profit organization devoted to protecting America's scenic landscapes.

Throughout America, McMahon said, individuals, cities and states have prospered in the opportunity available in the United States. However, during this process, America has begun to lose its landscapes and the character of its countryside. Downtowns have not become as important to communities, and McMahon said many people and towns are losing their sense of place.

"If you don't know where you are, you don't know who you are," he said.

Growth is desirable and inevitable, McMahon said, but in the process many downtowns are losing many of the characteristics that make a community unique. The trick, he said, is to find a way to attract business while still keeping a small-town, homey feel in a community.

Simply planting trees could increase the value of a residential property could increase 20 to 30 percent, while adding to the aesthetic value of the town, McMahon said.

The benefits are even greater for a commercial property. For example, trees surrounding a strip mall have proven to increase employee productivity, morale and job satisfaction, McMahon said. This, in turn, helps the financial return of the business increase from 5 to 15 percent, he said.

Another way to make the community a better place is by grasping the culture and historical value of the community through architecture, McMahon said. Tourists visit places that are different than their hometowns.

"If the town looks like any other town in America, then no one would want to come," McMahon said. "If more is done to enhance the community, then more people will want to visit."

Throughout the country, city officials have grasped this idea by asking corporations to build its stores and outlets in conjunction with the local physical surroundings, McMahon said. This has taken place in the Northeast, Southwest and Rocky Mountains with corporations such as McDonald's, Wal-Mart, Lowe's and Pizza Hut.

"Your town can get worse one building at a time, or it can get better one building at a time," McMahon said.

With more people retiring every day, McMahon said it would not be a bad idea to consider creating a community that people could see themselves retiring in. Essentially, retirees want a quiet town that provides outdoor recreation, a moderate climate and a reasonable cost of living.

"This is Goldsboro, North Carolina," McMahon said. "Let me tell you something, there are some things you've got no control over, like the weather, but some of those things can change."

Finally, McMahon emphasized the importance of downtown development. Since many industries look to a city's downtown area to decide where to locate, it is economically fundamental for a town to focus its attention on the heart and soul of that town, he said.

An improved downtown would not only attract industries, but it would bring residents, businesses and entertainment. Two-thirds of the households in America that do not have children would prefer to live downtown, McMahon said. From there, people would be able to walk to a variety of locations and are physically connect to the history of the city.

Improvements on run-down buildings and an increase in activities available in a downtown setting could even help increase the sales tax revenue, McMahon said.

As soon as McMahon finished his presentation, officials began implementing his words for the future of Goldsboro.

"We have an awful lot of good things going on in Goldsboro," Mayor Al King said. "It's not cheap; it's not easy; but it's the right thing to do."

In the coming years, King said the city is planning on making many renovations that will enhance downtown and that area's economy. Such renovations include the reconstruction of the Paramount Theater and restoring the downtown train station. King said he promises even more renovations are in the works for Goldsboro.

"The heart and soul of Goldsboro is downtown and I'll do whatever I can to preserve it," he said.