Views are mixed on future of Streetscape
By Ty Johnson
Published in News on December 16, 2012 1:50 AM
During the Goldsboro City Council's recent discussion about the continuation of the Center Street Streetscape project, two council members made sweeping, contradicting statements about the reception to the city's signature downtown revitalization project.
Nearly a month after work was completed on the 200 block of North Center Street, District 3 Councilman William Goodman said he didn't know of anyone who wanted to see the project continued.
District 2 Councilman Bill Broadaway later said he hadn't heard anyone say they weren't pleased with the project.
Goodman suggested Broadaway hadn't spoken with business owners on Center Street, but Broadaway said he had.
Take a walk down Center Street, however, and it seems both men were, perhaps, limited in their research, as a survey of 20 business operators along Center Street Thursday revealed opinions aren't necessarily as homogenous as the council members suggested.
With two businesses abstaining, two-thirds of business representatives said they were in favor of the project, although it was frequently revealed that opinions weren't easy to categorize into a simple "for" or "against" vote.
Joe Goulding, president of Trophies & Tributes, said he wanted more information from the city about its plans.
"They need to be more informative up front about the process," he said.
Indeed one of the biggest concerns expressed by Center Street business operators located between Mulberry and Chestnut streets was that if the city shut down the entire block, as it did with the 200 block of North Center Street, there would be virtually zero foot traffic at their businesses.
The city has suggested that any continuation of the project wouldn't be done with a full shutdown of the block, but would instead be done in sections, such as shifting the four-way traffic into two lanes on one side of the road to allow for work to be done on the other side.
The completed block was shut down entirely because the businesses on that block were all located at intersections. The next two blocks have many interior businesses that would be impacted greatly if there was no through-traffic at all.
Mary Ellen McInnis, the owner of Thistle Bee Quilt Shoppe, relocated her business to its location on the 200 north block of Center Street near the end of the construction work.
She said the year between bidding the design work out and construction beginning should provide ample time for businesses on the next two blocks to prepare for the logistical headaches associated with the renovation work.
She and Roy Parker III, president of the downtown Goldsboro branch of The Little Bank, said they felt the city can't stop with one block, and while Bud Griffin, manager of Direct Carpet Outlet, said he also wanted to see it continued, he doesn't think it will lead to more private investment in the city's municipal district.
"If they want to do the next block, it's fine," he said. "It's not going to bring new businesses downtown."
While he said he appreciated the renovation aesthetically, calling the street a "beautiful asset," but said he doubts it will increase foot traffic.
"I don't think it's going to increase (downtown traffic) one iota," he said.
He said customer loyalty -- Direct Carpet has been in business for 62 years -- and his store's location on the corner near Ash Street had helped him to absorb a loss in sales of about 40 percent during the six months of construction, but he doubted the retail stores on the next two blocks would be as lucky, since they depend on foot traffic.
A longtime opponent to the project, Wiley Williamson, Goldsboro Used Furniture owner and operator, called the Streetscape renovations the biggest boondoggle in the city's history.
"It's a waste of time," he said.
Williamson said business at his store had been reduced so much due to the first phase of construction that any more renovations would likely cost him his store, which has been in operation for decades.
Besides the construction impact, another widespread concern shared by business operators, even among those who were in favor of the project continuation, was the reduction of parking spaces even after the project's completion.
The original plan for the entirety of Center Street was to convert its parking from angled to parallel -- similar to the completed block -- but resistance from the community led to the creation of a hybrid parking layout which calls for angled parking along the median and parallel parking along the storefronts.
Some business owners said they would prefer to have that layout flipped -- with parallel parking along the median. Changes to those plans could be brokered during the predicted year of design work to come should the council decide to bid that work out.
The number of parallel parking spaces would be about one-third less than the current number of angled spaces, meaning parking on the two blocks could be reduced by as much as 15 percent.
But one benefit Parker pointed out about the construction work following completion has Terry Cottle, owner and operator of Waynesborough Furniture, convinced the renovations are worth it.
Parker said the pressure and clarity of the water from his faucets since the Streetscape work was finished has shown a marked increase over the practically undrinkable water that previously came out -- evidence of almost a century of deterioration of the infrastructure beneath Center Street. Workers said the pipes were essentially being held together by the dirt compacted around them in some cases.
Cottle said his tap water tastes so bad that employees tend not to drink it, so he's hoping work beneath the street could remedy that situation.
He supports the project for other reasons as well, and is hopeful that a creative solution -- working on one lane at a time and signage -- will help businesses like his to endure the construction, which echoed a statement Parker made about the project.
"The short-term pain is worth the long-term gain," he said.
The City Council is expected to take up the discussion about Streetscape at its Dec. 17 meeting, thanks to Planning Director Randy Guthrie's suggestion that the design work begin in January if construction is to begin in early 2014 as previously discussed.
That start date was chosen to coincide with the retirement of large chunks of debt by the city on other projects. An estimated loan of $4 million ($2 million per block) would increase the city's total debt service for one year before continuing a decreasing trend.