08/09/06 — Residents tell council what they want downtown

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Residents tell council what they want downtown

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on August 9, 2006 1:52 PM

A community building, Paramount Theater and restored train depot are among the facilities Goldsboro residents say they want to see around Center Street in the future.

Seven years ago, only one person showed up when the Downtown Goldsboro Development Corp. hosted a public forum designed to gain a community perspective on the future of downtown.

Tuesday, more than 100 residents turned out at a pair of meetings with a similar purpose, as the city and urban designer Allison Platt hosted the Downtown Goldsboro Master Plan Public Forum at City Hall.

DGDC executive director Julie Thompson said the difference in turnout is reflective of a general change in attitude about the feasibility of making progress in the historic district.

"I'm really encouraged by the participation," she said. "I think today's attendance shows that people care."

Ms. Thompson added now that the city has a firm plan and elected officials who are committed to implementing it, residents have something to get behind.

Mrs. Platt told those in attendance that the "most critical part" of a downtown plan, aside from a supportive city government, is public input.

"The plan should arise from you and you should support it," she said.

Mrs. Platt presented her findings to date, information she has gathered on visits to Goldsboro over the course of the past few months. What she found was a "solid core area," surrounded by areas of blight.

"The central area looks pretty good," she said. "But as soon as you walk a couple of blocks, everything seems to fall apart."

Vacant properties, inconsistent neighborhoods and confusing signs make potential downtown visitors wary, Mrs. Platt added.

"Getting here is a problem," she said. "If you don't know how to get downtown because you don't live here, you practically can't get here."

Mrs. Platt also noted a lack of things to do in the area in the evening. When a city fails to provide a vibrant nightlife downtown, it becomes less attractive to potential residents, she said.

"Downtown is not a place you want to linger because there's no place to," she said.

As her presentation neared its end, Mrs. Platt opened the floor for discussion and members of the public were given the opportunity to list strengths and weaknesses downtown -- and what they would like to see done there.

Strengths included construction of the new City Hall, noticeable efforts by businesses to restore historic buildings, restaurants, free parking and a "beautiful Court House." Others said recent news about potential reconstruction of the Paramount Theater will be a major draw if the plan comes to fruition.

Mrs. Platt said the Paramount, like all aspects of the revitalization efforts downtown, can happen if the public believes in it.

"If you people really believe in something and work at it, it can happen," she said.

After the strengths were listed, Mrs. Platt added a positive that her research revealed. Of the 142 commercial properties downtown, only 26 are currently vacant.

"A vacancy rate of 18.3 percent is actually quite low compared to other downtowns this size," she said.

When it came time for residents to list the negative elements of Center Street and its surrounding areas, lack of nightlife was a popular complaint. Others included the lack of street lights, local attractions and meeting space.

Some, however, were more concerned about the presence of storefront churches and the "misperception" that downtown is a dangerous place to be. The churches, some said, take space away from potential businesses.

Mrs. Platt said the best way to eliminate fears regarding crime and vagrancy was to fill the neighborhoods surrounding the core with single-families -- including those from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base.

"The more people you have living in a place, the safer it is," she said. "You want to have eyes on the downtown area at all times."

At the end of the meeting, residents were asked what projects they would like to see in the city's longterm plan. A revamped train depot, new convention center, reconstructed Paramount Theater and community building were among those listed.

Mrs. Platt said she will take the input gathered at the meetings and use it to revise her plan. As the plan evolves and gets closer to completion, there will be more public forums, she said.