08/11/11 — What's next for city's downtown?

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What's next for city's downtown?

By Ty Johnson
Published in News on August 11, 2011 1:46 PM

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Bids are out for a streetscape project that will renovate the 200 block of North Center Street. The holly trees and median will be replaced with a walkway and more trees, plus a small park with a seating area. Sidewalks will also be widened as part of the project, which is one facet of the city's downtown master plan.

The revitalization of Goldsboro's downtown district is expected to become tangible by late this fall as the first portion of the Center Street Streetscape is out for bids, with bids closing Aug. 29.

The first phase of the renovations to the street will encompass the 200 block of North Center Street and will involve the replacement of the median, a widening of the sidewalk and the implementation of a bike lane to the downtown's main street.

The renovations come as part of the city's downtown master plan, a guide for renovations put together by Allison Platt of Allison Platt and Associates, a firm that specializes in urban design and downtown restructuring.

Mrs. Platt, who moved to Goldsboro shortly after taking on the job of designing a vision for the city's downtown future, said when she discovered Goldsboro she found the city had a lot going for it and only needed a little will power to emerge as a destination.

"If people believe in their city, it will happen. A lot of times how a city gets from down on its luck to hip is all about attitude," she said.

And Mrs. Platt believes that attitude adjustment can come from a project like the Center Street renovations and Downtown Goldsboro Development Corp. director Julie Thompson echoed her sentiments.

"It represents a major aesthetic and functional investment into Center Street," she said, and since the project will be done in phases from north to south, there shouldn't be too much of an impact on downtown businesses. "Beginning at the City Hall block where there are so few businesses means we can work out all the kinks and it will run smoother when we get down to the more congested blocks."

But there has been opposition to the renovation, although Mrs. Thompson said much of it is due to people being uninformed.

Those concerned about the holly trees and angled parking in the median are correct that those aspects won't figure in to the streetscape, but the plans call for nearly twice as many trees and a walkway, plus a small park plaza.

The parking concept has also been compromised, as angled parking will remain on most blocks, although parallel parking will be utilized in the City Hall block.

Mrs. Platt said the problem with previous investments into downtown has been a lack of foresight. With a plan in place and steps to follow, she said, the city can organize its efforts and have a better sense of where downtown is heading.

"You have to have a vision farther out than the next project," she said.

Mrs. Platt's original aim was to have the entire streetscape project completed at once, but due to fund limitations it will be broken up into block-by-block phases.

There is still hope for the project to be done all at once, but that possibility is dependent on the city's application for a very exclusive grant, one the city entered another project, the Union Station renovation, into as well.

Obviously the city would like to have both plans, each requesting $6 million, approved, but the Transport-ation, Community and Systems Preservation Pro-gram grant only has $61 million total to give out and Mrs. Platt said she would prefer to fund the Union Station project since the street renovations could be broken down more easily into phases.

"We can figure out over time how to fund the streetscapes," she said.

The Union Station renovation has been touted often by Mrs. Platt and other planning officials in the state as being a huge boon for the city, as the project's completion could bring commuter rail to Goldsboro sooner, making downtown a more viable place for younger adults to live while being a short train ride from Raleigh and other metropolitan areas.

A shot in the arm downtown has already received, however, is the moving of the Arts Council of Wayne County to downtown, she said. In New Bern, where she last worked, the arts council was downtown, she said, and the presence of art downtown can't be underestimated.

"It's really important to bring creative people downtown," she said.