08/27/07 — Mount Olive sets sights on downtown improvement plan

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Mount Olive sets sights on downtown improvement plan

By Anessa Myers
Published in News on August 27, 2007 1:45 PM

MOUNT OLIVE -- Mount Olive is trying to bring more life into its downtown and surrounding areas with the help of the Small Town Development Committee.

The committee and town officials met last week to discuss the next steps in renovating the downtown area.

Town Manager Charles Brown said he believes the town has done a good job so far with filling downtown vacancies, but added he wants to start enhancing other aspects as well to attract more shoppers and investment.

The downtown improvement plans started with tearing down unsightly buildings on the downtown streets. The structure on the corner of East James Street and Center Street was the first to go.

The building was becoming unsafe for people walking around it, Brown said.

The town started demolishing the building Saturday after getting approval for the project at the last town council meeting.

The demolition will be complete by Thursday afternoon, Brown said, and the town has had "a fair amount of interest in that lot" -- some people even coming up with plans for a retail store on the first floor with apartments above.

Apartments would be a plus -- as long as the look meshes with the rest of the downtown area, he said.

"I would like to see a structure that's actually going to fit in downtown," Brown said.

Town officials also hope other buildings can be refurbished to their former glory.

Across the street from the condemned structure is the Holmes House -- a town landmark now in need of renovation, a project Brown hopes will be completed soon, before the dilapidated structure has to be torn down.

To lose the Holmes House would be a loss, he said.

"If there was a party or a social gathering in town, it was most likely at that house," he said.

The town has made efforts to force the property owner bring the Holmes House up to standard, and the owner has agreed -- to some extent.

"He does a little bit of work, stops, then the town threatens to condemn it," Brown said. "Then he does a little more work, stops. ... It's an ongoing cycle."

"It's going downhill fast," Mayor Ruff Huggins added.

At some point in time, Brown said, the town will have no choice but to condemn the building, and the mayor agreed that would be a loss.

"It's one of the oldest houses in town," the mayor said. "I'd hate to see it torn down."

The committee also has discussed plans for the old cinema, and Brown said the town has made efforts to move forward.

"We have contacted the owner of the building and hopefully we can work it out and make it something like a performing arts theater," Brown said.

Many plans are in the discussion stages for the area, including a multi-purpose community center, but the mayor said it will be a while before the project takes top priority.

Relocating the library to the old Belk building, owned by Mount Olive College, also "looks promising," he said, but added nothing is in the final stages.

Brown said he delivered design plans to the college recently, which shows some interest in the library move.

The mayor also suggested bringing GATEWAY buses to the area.

"Transportation for elderly people in Mount Olive -- there is none," he said.

The mayor wants to give the same services to Mount Olive residents as the buses give to Goldsboro residents.

He continued that the town and committee might want to look into bringing Greyhound bus service back, too.

Stephanie Kornegay, chairman of the committee, agreed, saying that many college students in the area don't have cars and can't get home.

"I think it might be time again to get some suitable transportation, at least to Goldsboro," she said.

The committee also discussed signage on N.C. 55 to show visitors how to get to the downtown area.

"I don't know what we have out there now, if anything," Ms. Kornegay said.

Brown said he would take the committee's suggestions to the N.C. Department of Transportation to see what they could do.

To beautify the area, many committee members agreed to look into flags to surround the downtown streets.

Ms. Kornegay said she has seen small towns with flags hanging year-round, and the display makes for a path for visitors to follow through the town.

With all of the projects and suggested improvements, the town and its residents are looking to the future.

"I'd like to walk downtown and say, 'Wow,' and we are getting close," committee member Robert Shepherd said.

But Ms. Kornegay said action will now be the key.

"These are great suggestions," she said. "Now we just have to implement them."