10/09/06 — DGDC chief earns award for work on downtown

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DGDC chief earns award for work on downtown

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on October 9, 2006 1:50 PM

Julie Thompson never aspired to lead a renaissance in downtown Goldsboro -- the longtime city planner simply wanted something more.

So, seven years ago she applied for the position of director of the Downtown Goldsboro Development Corp., a job that had been vacant for months.

When she got the job, she said she never knew that something in her would change.

"I never really had any interest in downtown development," Mrs. Thompson said. "When I applied for the job, I just wanted a change. The passion and drive came later."

Sometime shortly after she took the job, her interest in improving areas of blight in the core of the city began to grow, she added.

"I wanted to help create a more vibrant downtown," Mrs. Thompson said. "And I realized that the driving force of that effort is working to preserve your historic properties. That's the only thing (Goldsboro) has that makes it different. Everybody finds their niche and tries to market it. This is ours."

Her philosophy was established -- and ever since, she has overseen projects, created programs and developed plans to bring a once cherished area of the city back to life.

Maybe that's why she received the Gertrude S. Carraway Award of Merit from Preservation North Carolina Saturday.

The Carraway award is named in honor of the late Dr. Gertrude S. Carraway, a noted New Bern historian and preservationist. The award, which was first given in 1974, honors individuals or organizations that have demonstrated a genuine commitment to historic preservation through extraordinary leadership, research, philanthropy, promotion, and/or significant participation in preservation.

"I came here in '93 and I remember it clearly," Mrs. Thompson said. "(Downtown) wasn't very safe. I remember how it felt and what it was like."

She wanted to help clean it up, she added. And with the help of city leaders, staff and investors, she has helped do just that, she said.

"When you look at Center Street Jam and our other programs, they are making people who have not been downtown in years come down and see it's not the awful, dreadful place it was seen as back then," Mrs. Thompson said. "But some people are so stubborn, they won't even allow themselves to see what downtown has to offer."

New businesses have moved onto Center Street and its surrounding blocks, mom-and-pops and multi-million dollar facilities bring local workers to the area daily, she added. Improving upon those things has become her "24/7."

Currently, Mrs. Thompson is involved in many projects that aim to improve the quality of life in the coming years -- the Downtown Master Plan, Comprehensive Historic Neighborhood Revitalization Plan and more.

"The Comprehensive Historic Neighborhood Revitalization Plan is probably the most exciting thing because it's a collective effort," she said. "To me, it's probably the most hopeful and will probably have the biggest impact."

The plan targets downtrodden residential areas around downtown and aims to restore them -- a project Mrs. Thompson said will undoubtedly make Goldsboro a better place to live.

And while recent approval of the Paramount Theater and Community Building projects is good news, it will be the smaller, piece-by-piece efforts in those neighborhoods that over time will pay the biggest dividends, she added.

"It's not just one thing that's going to turn this community around," Mrs. Thompson said. "We're making up for things we had before. It's great, but we need to look forward to things as well."

Looking forward 10 years, the city will hardly be recognizable, she added.

"It'll be denser with both new commercial and residential development," Mrs. Thompson said. "You'll see a renovated depot and a passenger-rail service."

Ten years from now, downtown will also feature a new Paramount and Community Building, redesigned street-scapes and bricked sidewalks "everywhere," she added.

"And there will be people," she added. "Lots and lots of people."

Until then, hard work and sleepless nights will help make her vision and dreams a reality, Mrs. Thompson said.

"I hope that when I leave here, I'll feel like I can walk away knowing downtown Goldsboro can sustain itself."