Downtown's newest advocate
By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on October 25, 2009 2:00 AM
Criminal defense attorney and well-known Goldsboro native Geoff Hulse was recently elected president of the Downtown Development Corp. board, a role he said has great personal meaning to him.
Geoff Hulse remembers the innocence of childhood -- when learning to swim and riding a bicycle were the most pressing things to accomplish in downtown Goldsboro.
He can still see families walking the streets en route to local stores and restaurants.
He can hear the whistles blowing as trains pulled in and out of Union Station.
But those memories are some 40 years old.
And since then, the man, like his beloved childhood stomping ground, has, at times, lost his way.
That, Hulse says, is the reason he recently accepted a nomination for president of the Downtown Goldsboro Development Corp. board.
Both he and the place that molded his younger years are ready for a comeback.
"It's like me personally. I've been a little off center lately and I have kind of found my heart and found my center and found my soul," Hulse said. "I think when people recognize that downtown Goldsboro is the heart and the center and the soul of Wayne County ... when they get past their biases ... they will recognize what is good for downtown Goldsboro is good for the county."
Hulse concedes that some of those biases are rooted in reality -- and doesn't hide from the fact that changes need to be made in the neighborhoods that surround downtown to ensure the core stays strong.
And when it comes to advocating for those changes, he intends to fill a role that suits the criminal defense attorney's personality.
"I see this role, my job, as a mouthpiece, so when I take on a leadership position with any organization, and particularly one that I am as passionate about as this, if I feel the need to say, 'It's time to clean it up boys,' I'm not going to be shy about that," he said. "Are we just going to say, 'Gee. That's terrible. Forget about it?' No."
The future of downtown is about far more than crime statistics, Hulse said.
It's about the progress being made right now, about the leg work DGDC executive director Julie Thompson and the City Council have completed to make projects like a new Paramount Theater, Recreation Center and Union Station possible.
It's about a commitment local business owners have made to remain in the city's core, about their ability to adapt to the change Hulse has witnessed over the past several decades.
"You can see the difference in the restaurants and in the stores. We're starting to grow again," he said. "Are we there yet? Heck no. We're not there yet. But we're getting there."
He will promote that growth and urge more locals to jump on the bandwagon.
"In this economy, what better time to come downtown? We have storefronts that need to be filled (and) the prices on those are cheaper than people are going to find anywhere," Hulse said. "People would be silly not to jump on board. ... I mean, the way I look at it, a community or a county or an area that does not recognize the significance and importance of a downtown is missing the boat. It's the Mecca. It's the centerpiece of the county."
Those beliefs are ones he truly feels the majority of Wayne residents will one day buy into.
So he has no problem looking down the road, maybe 10 years from now, to the "hustle and bustle" days of old.
"First and foremost, if we have got the Recreation Center and we have got the Paramount and we have got Union Station, that alone ... is going to give many diverse groups of people more reason to come downtown," he said. "It's people getting joy from being downtown and not just when they pay their water bill at City Hall. ... and I don't think it's unreasonable to think you could see that in five years."
And with the "anchors" -- the Paramount, Recreation Center and Union Station -- in place, the storefronts and neighborhoods they support will become more vibrant, he added.
"I envision more rental areas coming into play. I envision more restaurants coming. I envision more opportunity to draw people downtown," he said. "I can, without a whole lot of conjuring up, feel how it was downtown. ... The hustle and bustle, that's the way it was. That is what downtowns were back then, and I can say back then because ... I'm talking some 50 years ago. That's how we ultimately want downtown to be again -- where everything was downtown."
Hulse knows that what he is really reaching for is a redemption for a place that brings back memories of a father and son running in and out of the county courthouse.
And he believes that if people let him, he can inspire them to see the city's core as something with potential.
"I want to kind to be the face ... of downtown. I want people to say that when they see Geoff Hulse, they recognize that he is the person promoting downtown -- the guy who is going to tell them, like it or not, that downtown is the place to be," he said. "Like in politics, there are different personalities. And my personality might be to be out there a little more. ... That's just, I guess, who I am. I've got some substance. The older I get, the more substance I get. I'm not just here for show.
"I've got my own baggage that I carry, but I also think it's an interesting parallel right now that I am trying to work on something I love and care about, which is the revitalization of this town, when I've crossed a point in my life where I see things differently."
At this point, he said, neither he nor downtown have much to lose.
"You've got to feel it more than say it and results are the ultimate decider. So am I going to be quiet? No. I'm telling people, 'Come downtown. Eat downtown. Shop downtown. ... I'm saying, 'Thank God that you have a City Council and a mayor that have vision for the future and have done things along those lines," Hulse said. "I think downtown has been down and so have I. And we're both coming back strong."