02/21/12 — City Council to seek downtown grant

View Archive

City Council to seek downtown grant

By Ty Johnson
Published in News on February 21, 2012 1:46 PM

Full Size

After voting a week ago against submitting an application, the Goldsboro City Council decided Monday to pursue a transportation grant that would renovate Goldsboro's Union Station downtown.

During a specially called meeting, the Goldsboro City Council reversed an almost week-old decision on pursuing a transportation grant that, if awarded, could result in renovations of four downtown blocks and the city's Union Station.

The city submitted a preapplication for the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grants Monday, following an afternoon vote by the council. A full application will be due in April.

At the council's retreat last week, members voted against submitting the preapplication for the fourth round of TIGER grants. Opponents cited concerns about plunging the city further in debt with another project requiring a loan. The city's match on the $13 million project would have been 20 percent, or $2.6 million.

The project contained plans to renovate three blocks of Center Street, not to be confused with another portion of the Center Street Streetscape Project, which has already been put out for bid. That project, which will renovate only the 200 north block of the street, has proven divisive, as two council members, District 2 Councilman Bob Waller and District 6 Councilman Jackie Warrick, have opposed it from the beginning.

During a recent vote on moving forward with financing options for the single block project, Warrick and Waller were joined by District 3 Councilman Don Chatman in voting against it, while the vote was still approved 4-3.

Mayor Al King, Mayor Pro Tempore Chuck Allen and District 4 Councilman Rev. Charles Williams have never wavered in support for the project that they think will revitalize downtown, leaving District 1 Michael Headen as the swing vote.

Headen, who opposed applying for the grant last week, said during the meeting Monday that he was the one who had asked for the grant proposal to be considered again.

"I guess I'm the primary reason we're here," he said, giving an opening address to the council. "My interest in this is primarily that it could open up the door for Union Station. I know this presents great challenges to this council, but it could be a shot in the arm. It also has the potential to be a job creator."

City Manager Scott Stevens explained at the beginning of the meeting that the chances for getting the grant were "slim."

The federal grants have $500 million available nationwide, with $100 million set aside for high-speed and inter-city passenger rail projects, but no more than 25 percent of the grant money can go to a single state. The third round of TIGER grant funding revealed that of 848 applications requesting $14.9 billion worth of funding, only 46 were awarded, with the total distributed amount at $511 million.

"Slim or not," Headen said. "I think we should at least give it a try."

Allen spoke next, adding a suggestion that the project be expanded by about half a million dollars to include renovating the GATEWAY parking lot. He continued to explain why he fully supported the project.

"All we're talking about is applying for a grant that would move the city forward 15 years," he said.

Williams, who had accosted his colleagues following their dissenting votes last week, apologized to his fellow council members, saying he wished he had handled the situation differently. He said he hadn't changed the way he felt, but that it was not within his typical character to get upset and speak the way he did.

Immediately following the vote last week, Williams said the dissenting votes of Chatman, Warrick and Waller, all of whom have said they will not seek re-election, were similar to getting out of a car, then ruining it so that no one else could drive it.

Monday's meeting was interrupted for a moment by a woman seeking to present the council with a petition against the Streetscape project. King informed Barbara Hatch that the specially called work session did not call for comments from the public and she was directed to give the petition to City Clerk Melissa Corser.

Following the meeting, Headen was pulled several different ways by members of the public who addressed him. Constituents praised him for leading the conversation during the meeting but also expressed their concern that businesses along Center Street had not been properly educated about the project.

Headen was also pulled away from the media by Warrick for a short, no more than 10-second private conversation.

"There ain't four of us so I can talk all I want to," Warrick said as Headen followed him back into the City Manager's office. Warrick was referring to the rule that if there are three or less members gathered, the conversation does not directly violate the letter of the Sunshine Law, which demands government business be conducted in the open except in cases of legal or contract matters.

Headen said after the meeting that his primary goal with the vote was Union Station.

"I think everyone in this city is for Union Station," he said.

When asked about changing his vote, he said he didn't want to get into "semantics," adding that he felt like he wanted time to evaluate the project further. He discussed the grant application with Stevens during the second day of the retreat.

Headen would not indicate whether he would still vote in favor of the single block Center Street renovation the city has been considering for months, but continued to harp on what a boost Union Station could be if it were renovated.

"Union Station has the potential to be an economic engine," he said.

The former train station has been planned to become a transportation hub for the city in future decades, with GATEWAY's transfer station and offices being housed there along with the possible reintroduction of passenger rail.