02/28/06 — Civic center not a top priority this year

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Civic center not a top priority this year

By Andrew Bell
Published in News on February 28, 2006 1:58 PM

Goldsboro City Manager Joe Huffman wasn't sure sure if a new civic center would become a reality for the city, but that didn't stop him and other city officials from discussing the issue and other city priorities with Wayne County officials during an intergovernmental committee meeting Monday.

"It's one of those things where it's either going to happen or it's going to be put on hold for years," he said. "The civic center is something I don't think we can handle by ourselves. We can't do it without the county. That is why we put it last on our (priorities) list. If we can't get help, then this will turn into a dead issue."

The meeting, the first in several years between the committees, was a chance for both sides to express their priorities and find ways for the two groups to partner financially on community projects, Huffman said.

Although county officials were receptive to Huffman, Mayor Al King and City Councilman Chuck Allen's ideas for developing a partnership, Wayne County Manager Lee Smith said he and the Board of Commissioners could not make a decision on funding a civic center until this summer when they receive plans for the construction of an agricultural building near Cherry Farm.

The proposed building, which already has a $200,000 planning grant from the state, would be an educational facility involving the national Department of Agriculture and North Carolina State University, among others, Smith said.

Until the county receives those plans, Wayne County Commissioner Atlas Price said officials could not pledge support.

"It's not that we don't want to do it, but our plate has gotten full," Price said.

In the next year, he said the Board of Commissioners will have to decide on additions to the county jail, building a new animal shelter and resolving the school facilities plan.

"We are not trying to cry hard times. We're just letting you know the facts," Price said.

Allen said he wanted county officials to know that the construction of a civic center might not be possible without county dollars.

A question of concern for county officials was the amount of revenue a civic center could generate in the community. Allen said it is possible the city could lose money during construction, but added that Goldsboro would gain money once the center is completed because local taxes would pay the building's operational costs.

A civic center could benefit hotels and restaurants, with more visitors coming to Goldsboro, Allen said. Also, the city and county would profit from property and other taxes, and King said the potential revenue is a "considerable amount of money."

The construction of a civic center could also come at a considerable cost to the county, County Commissioner Jack Best said.

Allen said a new civic center could be built in phases, with the first price tag right around $10 million.

Price said the estimate sounded low.

"If any of us build a civic center that Wayne County accepts -- even in phases -- you can't build it for $7 million. I don't even think anyone can touch it for anything less than $25 million," Price said.

But even though they were hestitant to commit to the civic center project, county officials did agree to work with the city to create a downtown railroad depot.

Smith said federal funds are available for that sort of project, adding that the county could support a depot that handled not only rail traffic, but other modes of transportation as well.

"If we are talking about transfers, taxis and buses in one place -- a multimodal facility -- it could be a big project. We could make that work," Smith said.

Federal grants would pay for 80 percent of the project, with the remaining percentage split between the city and county, Allen said.

Another issue the county and city could work together on is the construction of a community building that would be used by residents throughout the county, King said.

The project would include a swimming pool covered by a fabric canopy, volleyball courts, basketball courts and other recreational activities, Allen said.

"Our early numbers project that it would cost about $7 to $8 million," he said.

Between $1 to $2 million of that cost has been secured for the building, and the city owns the land it would be constructed on, Allen said. The plan is to build on the land between Center and Elm streets.

Huffman said the building plans are under way, and the city is hoping to have a bid by the end of the year. The county could begin putting money into the project during the 2007-08 fiscal year and pay $2 million over the next four years, Allen said. The city would cover the remaining costs, he added.

"We know the county doesn't get into parks and recreation, but we think this is something you should look at and consider," Allen said.

Allen said a community building could be a boost for the downtown area, encouraging businesses to fill in some of the vacant storefronts.

Best questioned whether residents would support a new facility.

"When we talk about 120,000 people, those are people who use the bypass and that don't come downtown anymore," he said. "Are we trying to make something that can't happen?"

The community building could be the first of many projects that revitalize Goldsboro's downtown, Huffman said. The city is aggressively marketing its downtown and is planning to revamp downtown neighborhoods, reconstruct the Paramount Theater and renovate City Hall, he said.

"We want to make it the most attractive place in Wayne County," Huffman said.

Giving residents a community building to use will get them downtown to see improvements for themselves, King said.

Once city officials create a budget for the project, including the entire cost of the building, Smith said he and the commissioners will discuss a partnership with the city.