Center Street poised to get new look
By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on August 5, 2010 2:14 PM
DGDC executive director Julie Thompson discusses the proposed design for renovating downtown Goldsboro streets.
A vision born in 2006 took another step toward reality Wednesday, as downtown officials, again, made their pitch for a revamped Center Street.
But this time around, Downtown Goldsboro Develo-pment Corp. Executive Director Julie Thompson and urban designer Allison Platt were not addressing members of the City Council.
This particular presentation was meant for those they say the project will impact the most: local residents and business owners.
A standing-room-only crowd listened as Mrs. Thompson unwrapped the latest incarnation of a design she characterized as a "complete revision of the streetscape" -- one that features, among other things, 18-foot sidewalks, a "walkable median" and more.
And despite a few concerns -- potential reduction in the number of available parking spaces, disruption of business during construction and the cost -- most who attended walked away optimistic about the future.
Downtown property owner Joe Ruggery was among those excited about the prospect of a revamped Center Street.
"I think it's wonderful," he said. "I'm just curious to see how it's going to look."
And by next summer, should the City Council decide to move forward with the plan, he just might have his wish.
Planning Director Randy Guthrie said there is currently $1 million in street bond funds available for the project, enough to cover the first phase of the effort.
Each block, he said, would likely cost between $800,000 and $1 million to complete, so the available funds would cover only the 200 block of North Center, which houses City Hall.
Mrs. Thompson said starting with that block makes sense for many reasons -- perhaps most importantly, it would be the least disruptive for businesses struggling in the current economic climate.
"It gives us a chance to test out the project and work out the kinks," she said.
Ms. Platt said the idea of widening the median and sidewalks, replacing the Holly trees that run down the middle of the street and creating more open, green space, is a tribute to the way Center Street once looked.
"We're sort of trying to honor that history," she said.
But doing so would also draw more patrons to downtown businesses, she argued.
"What you have now is a median you can't walk down and sidewalks that are crowded," she said.
The holly trees are a particular problem, Ms. Platt added, as they not only prevent walking down the median, but also block businesses on one side of the street from view for those walking on the other.
"You can't even see the storefronts" she said.
And having utilities above ground, as they are currently, is simply unsightly, she said.
So another aspect of the redesign would involve burying the utilities, a suggestion that prompted resident Henry Smith to ask about what costs downtown businesses would have to incur to hook up to the new system.
But Guthrie said the city, not the business owners, would eat the cost.
Former council member Jimmy Bryan's concern also involved potential costs involved with the project.
But his question involved just how the city intended to pay for the remaining blocks along Center.
The city, he said, is already actively pursuing potential grants.
And Mrs. Thompson added that Sen. Kay Hagan is still supporting the city's request for a $3 million appropriation for the project.
The only other concern voiced regarded parking.
Ms. Platt, though, said off-street parking currently available is underutilized, and argued that execution of a revamped streetscape would actually increase the number of spots available.
"Each concept has more parking than exists now," she said.
Whether or not the council will vote to move forward with the first phase of the project remains to be seen.
But if Mayor Al King has anything to say about it, the future of the project seems to be fairly secure.
"I'm a big supporter of this program," he said. "So we're willing to tweak it, but we're not going to kill it."