12/08/08 — Officials: Downtown development still has ways to go

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Officials: Downtown development still has ways to go

By Anessa Myers
Published in News on December 8, 2008 1:46 PM

Sixteen months after Goldsboro City Council unanimously approved a 10-year master plan to better the downtown area, Downtown Goldsboro Development Corp. Director Julie Thompson says there is still a long road ahead.

At the August 2007 council meeting, members were excited about the possibilities.

At the time, Mrs. Thompson advised city officials that the plan would take time to be implemented -- and that some of the goals outlined in it would need years to materialize.

"The reality of it is that we don't expect to see all of this completed right now," she said then, and added that Allison Platt, an urban designer who helped come up with the plan, had publicly said that Goldsboro's downtown area has the most potential for redevelopment of any town she has worked with in both North and South Carolina.

The plan was split up between administrative priorities and priority public improvements.

Since the council's approval, five of the 12 administrative priorities have been completed -- approving the plan, preparing design guidelines, continuing to acquire property for redevelopment as resources allow, reviewing the permitting and inspections process, and exploring a theater and entertainment district.

Implementing design review, reviewing zoning codes, implementing policies to save historic structures, preparing a plan for South Center Street and designing development of streetscapes are more than halfway complete. Considering present and future parking needs with the formation of a parking authority and beginning to study the power lines design alternatives are still in the early planning phases.

As for priority public improvements, one item has been completed -- the Paramount Theatre -- and two are halfway completed -- the Preservation North Carolina/ Self-Help partnership and the community branding study through the Wayne County Chamber of Commerce.

Most of the public improvements are under the planning phase category -- Union Station, Community Recreation Center, wayfinding signage and implementation, residential streetscape improvements, residential improvements on South Center Street, Spruce Street townhouses, other residential opportunities, Self-Help housing and office development, commercial and mixed use development and redevelopment of the intersection of Ash and Center streets.

No work has been accomplished on Ash Street improvements, building a parking garage by the courthouse and additional parking in the city.

Mrs. Thompson said she is happy with the accomplishments so far, but hopes they continue.

"I think implementation of the plan is coming along well. ... We have made some great progress," she said. "Since it covers a 10-year planning horizon, there is obviously much more work to do."

The DGDC staff and board of directors are very much aware of the importance of keeping the plan active and advocating its value, she added.

"In fact, many of the topics covered at our DGDC annual board retreat revolved around the Master Plan -- its implementation progress, what the board can do to help the city achieve the vision of the plan, and what we need to do in order to keep the vision alive," Mrs. Thompson said. "We will be implementing ways to hopefully achieve the latter early next year."

When the plan was first approved, Ms. Platt said one of Goldsboro's weaknesses was the amount of deteriorating historical structures. In the future, those historic buildings, she said, could become one of the city's strengths.

For the next few years, Mrs. Thompson plans to continue to aggressively push the Neighborhood Plan efforts to find homeowners who will bring historic homes back to their former grandeur and build historical elements to new homes like the ones that Self-Help helped build on South John Street.

She also hopes to continue to build residential development downtown to support the commercial sector and to continue to advocate for strong public investment and increased private investment.

"Another major priority of the Master Plan that we will be working on beginning this year is the creation and implementation of a wayfinding sign system that will direct traffic from the highways to downtown and, once downtown, to their destinations," Mrs. Thompson said.

One of the biggest hindrances to achieving more in the plan is money, she added, "especially with the slow down in the economy right now."

So, competing for scarce resources and maintaining the energy through weaker economic times is the burden that the staff and board must bear for the upcoming year.

Despite the financial hiccups, she remains confident that the staff and board are on the right track with the right frame of mind.

"I have never in 10 years of being with the city felt as positive about downtown's future as I do now," Mrs. Thompson said. "We are being recognized across the state and even nationally for our efforts in both downtown and neighborhood revitalization -- for our innovation, stick-to-itiveness, spirit, results and for our team approach. That attitude will ensure our success in achievement of the plan's vision."