By Ty Johnson
Published in News on May 23, 2012 1:46 PM
A Daniels and Daniels Construction backhoe tears up Center Street in front of City Hall. The 200 north block of Center Street will remain closed for the foreseeable future. The block is being renovated as part of the city's Streetscape project. Construction is scheduled to be finished Oct. 15.
Although construction on the Center Street Streetscape has only just begun, the breaking of ground on the city's signature downtown revitalization project represents the culmination of seven years of planning and waiting for Downtown Goldsboro Development Corp. Director Julie Thompson.
Center Street is being ripped up as part of a $1.3 million project, but back in 2005, the Goldsboro City Council was close to simply resurfacing the city's main street.
Future work on a downtown master plan, however, led the City Council to delay that road work, and in 2006, Allison Platt and Associates was hired to put together that plan.
After more than a year of stakeholder meetings, five public forums, five council meeting presentations and the adoption of the downtown neighborhood plan, the Council voted to adopt the master plan with the Streetscape as the priority project.
But the five years since have been a tumultuous time for Ms. Thompson, because even as street bond money became available in 2010 and the architect revised its plans for construction, opposition to the project grew.
Delays in the votes, rejections of bids and questioning by affected business owners caused the project's future to be thrown into doubt in the past year.
"There were highs and lows, highs and lows and by the end of it you're starting to get numb from it," Ms. Thompson said.
With more than 60 people packed into the Council Chambers March 9, it appeared to be another gathering of opponents to the project during a meeting specifically called to approve the bids before they expire.
The vote passed 4-3, however, to a raucous applause.
"It's hard to put into words as far as what it means to me," Ms. Thompson said Friday of the earth being moved along Center Street. "It's been such a struggle over the last seven years."
She said she has been overcome with a combination of nervousness and excitement over the project.
"For me personally, it marks a turning point for downtown in an extremely positive direction," she said. "It's probably the most tangible improvement that has ever been made to downtown as far as its ability to affect multitudes of property owners and businesses."
Events, grants and other programs her department has provided had before only benefited one or a handful of businesses directly, she said. This one directly benefits all of them.
"This is a project that's going to be beneficial to everyone," she said. "It marks a great turning point for downtown."
The project calls for the renovation of the 200 north block of Center Street by widening the sidewalks and median and creating a path between the roads as well as planting new trees to replace the aging holly trees.
Construction, which began May 14, will prevent traffic from entering the 200 north block of Center Street where City Hall is located from the north at the traffic circle and from the south at the Mulberry Street intersection.
Citizens wishing to access City Hall or Pet Village on the east side of the street can park in City Hall's rear parking lot or along Mulberry Street. Direct Carpet customers can park along Ash Street. Access to the Little Bank parking lot on the west side of Center Street will remain open throughout construction, which is expected to conclude Oct. 15.