02/20/09 — City Council split over civic center site

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City Council split over civic center site

By Anessa Myers
Published in News on February 20, 2009 1:46 PM

Goldsboro may have a civic center in its future, but as of now, it won't sit next to Wayne Community College.

City Council members discussed the option during the second and final day of their annual retreat Thursday and had a verbal tug of war on the issue.

Wayne County Chamber of Commerce Director Steve Hicks brought a new concept before the council -- a Goldsboro/Wayne Centennial Campus. The concept combined the county's proposed regional agriculture center, a convention and commerce center and an aviation heritage center with an Air Force museum on 2,000 acres of land a half mile on each side of Wayne Memorial Drive from the existing U.S. 70 Bypass to the new bypass now under construction.

Hicks said that he believed the Air Force museum and conference center concept was one that, after the feasibility study results came in July, that everyone "embraced the idea" and "thought it made lots of sense."

But the council, as a whole, didn't necessarily agree.

Members voted against the site, but it wasn't a landslide vote.

Councilmen Chuck Allen made a motion for the center's civic site to be on Wayne Memorial Drive, if all of the parties -- Wayne County, Wayne Community College, Wayne Memorial Hospital and Seymour Johnson Air Force Base -- would agree to be involved.

"We need to resolve where it's going to go or else it's never going anywhere. For this thing ever to move, we need to decide where it's going to go."

And that site is the best chance the civic center has of succeeding, he added.

"You'd have to change the (Comprehensive Downtown) Master Plan or use the train station for it to be downtown, and that would take years and millions of dollars," Allen said.

Bob Waller and Jackie Warrick supported that motion, but Mayor Al King and councilmen Michael Headen, Don Chatman and the Rev. Charles Williams voted against the proposal.

"I'm not ready to make that decision. That's the best place for the county, but is it the best place for Goldsboro?" King asked.

"When we build it, it needs to benefit Goldsboro. At this time, I'm not ready to say to put it there."

When the mayor asked each council member what they thought before the vote, there were a few comments made.

"You know me, Mayor. I'm a downtown man," Williams said, referring to his opinion to put the civic center downtown.

Warrick had another take.

"Where else are you going to find the same amount of land that we already own?" he asked, referring to the site by the college.

Assistant City Manager Tasha Logan said that the chamber came before the council to get some direction.

"We don't want to get ahead of the City Council," she said, adding that committee members didn't want to continue talks with the county or Seymour Johnson Air Force Base before consulting the city officials first.

"I feel like we're stuck because we don't know how far to go with talking," she said.

Still, until "everyone is at the table," she said, the site by the college is just an option.

As for the downtown option, she said she isn't sure of the cost and whether it would be viable there.

The concept was also one that King said he had never seen before, and he wasn't happy about that.

"We need some more work. This is the first time that I've heard about it," he said. "I'm the mayor of this city. Someone better learn that they better include the mayor in their discussion. I didn't have a clue about this idea."

"All I'm saying is that this thing is dead (without the council picking a site)," Allen said.

"Well, then it's dead," the mayor replied.

"How do we undead it?" Allen asked.

"I don't know," King said. "We have been dickering around with this since I've been on the council.

"My job is for the city of Goldsboro's best interest."

Hicks told the council that the chamber and the committee would look into all of the options more closely and bring back more information to the council.

"We're just trying to set up something so everyone can provide input," he said.

But the mayor said he was only interested in one group's input.

"The input I want is not from the county, it's from the citizens, the residents of the city of Goldsboro," King said. "I, today, am not convinced that what you presented is in the city of Goldsboro's best interest.

"With something of this magnitude, somebody better get to the mayor early. I will have some questions. And if you answer my questions, then we can move forward."

Hicks told the council that he wanted them to know that the money for the project is available through occupancy tax funds -- or funds that people pay when they rent hotel rooms in Goldsboro.

"The money is here," he said.

The council was in agreement on one item as it approved an increase of the occupancy tax from 5 percent to 6 percent.

Council members also discussed the city's utility fund. Goldsboro Finance Director Kaye Scott told them that the city may see a $721,206 shortfall in the fund at the end of this fiscal year ending in June, mostly because of the drop in revenues.

"People can't pay their bills," she said. "They are losing their jobs. People are falling on hard times."