02/28/07 — Downtown master plan revealed

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Downtown master plan revealed

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on February 28, 2007 1:57 PM

There used to be a park running down the middle of Center Street -- a finely cut lawn lined with tall trees, bushes and flowers.

Urban designer Allison Platt told residents Tuesday that if her downtown master plan is approved and implemented by the Goldsboro City Council, history will repeat itself.

"It's easy to say, 'This could never happen here,'" she said. "But it can."

Those sentiments seemed to be Mrs. Platt's theme as 100-plus turned out to see her vision for the future of downtown unfold.

The preliminary master plan was a representation, she said, of input from local businesses, officials and community members -- what they wanted to see the city's core become.

But while her drawings were eye-catching to some and collective "oohs" and "ahs" filled the second-floor conference room at City Hall often during her speech, Mrs. Platt made sure those in attendance did not jump the gun.

"Nothing you see here today is written in stone," she said. "Nothing is literal. This is just (a rendering) of how things could look."

Improved streets, a revitalized residential district and restored buildings along Ash and Walnut streets were among the snapshots of what downtown could be that she presented.

And then there was Center Street.

"Center Street, to me, feels more like a place for cars than a place for people," Mrs. Platt said, adding that is not a desirable reaction from a non-resident, tourist or potential investor.

The construction of parking garages in the area, wider sidewalks and more narrow roadways with a park instead of a median would change that, she added.

And the holly trees must go.

"I'm sure they look great when the Christmas lights are up, but those holly trees have gotten so big, you can't see from one side of the street across to the other," Mrs. Platt said. "And visibility is the most important thing for a retailer."

There were other recommendations included in her report.

Design guidelines for new businesses in the historic district, zoning changes and development of the under-utilized buildings in the area were among them.

Still, the "key ingredient" -- the one that will likely make or break her vision -- is to create an environment that will provoke families, retirees and singles to live downtown, Mrs. Platt said.

"Of all the towns that I've worked on in the Carolinas, I think your community has the most potential," she said. "But revitalization of the surrounding residential neighborhoods is essential to downtown development."

One way to accomplish that goal is to move along with planned improvements in the area -- finishing the Paramount Theater and community building reconstruction and building on vacant land create a "fabric" with "fewer holes in it."

"The downtown core, it's actually pretty intact and that's unusual. In many cases, downtowns are basically dead," Mrs. Platt said. "But what happens is, people don't like to walk through (the areas with holes). They don't want to be there."

Constructing condominiums, town homes and apartment complexes on those lots, though, would bring the broken pieces of the downtown area back together, she added. And more people within walking distance of Center Street means a boom in the economy.

"You have some beautiful buildings, commercial and residential, downtown," Mrs. Platt said. "Whatever you do, hold onto them with both hands. They are your history."

Assistant City Manager Tasha Logan said it is unlikely that the City Council will vote on the master plan at its March 5 meeting. Still, now that the public has a look into the future, Mayor Al King said residents can expect to see progress soon.

"This is just a sample of what's to come," he said.