04/25/10 — Council votes down rec center

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Council votes down rec center

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on April 25, 2010 1:50 AM

After investing more than $1 million over the past several years to fund plans to construct a recreation center in downtown Goldsboro, members of the City Council voted the project down 4-3 Friday afternoon.

"It's dead now. I don't know when it will be discussed again, but right now, it's dead," said Mayor Al King, one of the three who voted to move forward with the project. "I don't see it coming up again anytime soon unless someone steps forward and says, 'Hey. We'll build it for you.' And I don't think that's going to happen."

Those who voted against construction of the facility -- Jackie Warrick, Donnie Chatman, Bob Waller and Michael Headen -- cited the state of the economy as a major influence in their decision.

"Pretty much, where we are right now as far as the city budget ... it looks like we're going to have to freeze positions again, probably cut programs, and we're still looking at an increase in taxes just to maintain what we have," Chatman said. "So even though I am totally for the rec. center and what it can do for the city and downtown, I think that for me, I need to know that the city is going to be able to maintain what we have -- that we won't be digging ourselves deeper and deeper.

"I don't want the city to be in the position where we have to continue to raise taxes ... because pretty soon, we wouldn't have any people to pay those taxes because they would leave. So economically, I don't feel good that we can do this project and still maintain what we have. I would love to see the project and I want to see it, but I can't vote for it right now."

Waller agreed.

"I think it's the timing and the economy. I think we need (the recreation center) ... and two years from now or two years ago, maybe. But today, right now, no," he said. "I've just got to be sure. I'm sure (the plan) would probably work, but I can't guarantee that to you. And that's a problem."

The city has been eyeing construction of a new recreation center since the previous facility -- opened in 1925 and located on Walnut Street -- was destroyed by fire in 2004.

In June 2005, a committee was formed to research a possible reconstruction, and since, the group has produced a design, location -- the 200 block of Center Street -- and most of the additional details to make it happen.

But the project was put on hold in January 2009 because of a shaky economy -- the same climate that prompted Waller, Warrick, Headen and Chatman to vote 'no' Friday during what was supposed to be merely a continuation of a discussion begun Monday during the council's pre-meeting work session.

Calls to Downtown Goldsboro Development Corp. executive director Julie Thompson, who said in February construction of a recreation center downtown was a critical component of the DGDC's master plan, were unanswered by press time.

"What (a recreation center) would bring as far as the energy and the traffic ... it's a big selling point," she said in February. "The facility is extremely important to the overall plan. It's a vital component of our vision."

But the Rev. Charles Williams, who said during the discussion that the facility would "benefit everybody as a whole -- the rich, the middle class, the poor, especially the poor," voiced his disappointment after the vote.

"What do we do now?" Williams asked. "(We've already spent) $1.2 million and now we're just throwing that away?"

Whether or not construction of the facility will be back on the table in the future remains unknown.

But even though those who voted against the project said they believe that in a better economy their decision might have been different, King won't be holding his breath.

"The council discussed it, they thought it through and they voted," he said. "That's democracy in action. So the project being dead, I guess that's the way it's supposed to be."