By Ty Johnson
Published in News on February 5, 2013 1:46 PM
A view of Center Street from the south shows the next two blocks to be renovated as part of the Center Street Streetscape Project. The Goldsboro City Council decided Monday to move forward with the design and engineering work for the next phase of the project.
The Goldsboro City Council decided to move forward with the engineering and design services portion of the second phase of the Center Street Streetscape Project Monday night, but not without extensive discussion.
The measure awards the engineering work for the next two blocks of the renovation project to The Wooten Company of Raleigh and the design work to Allison Platt and Associates of Goldsboro.
District 5 Councilman Chuck Allen was joined by District 3 Councilman William Goodman and District 6 Councilman Gene Aycock in voting against the measure, which passed 4-3.
Although Allen has supported the project since its beginnings, he took issue with the awarding of the engineering work to a firm from outside of Goldsboro during the council's work session.
"My fundamental problem is we should shop local," he said, asking why a local engineer couldn't handle the work.
City Manager Scott Stevens explained that the city issued a request for qualifications for the engineering services and that the selection is supposed to be based on which firm is best qualified to perform the work.
The process differs in many ways from the bidding process, whereby public bodies are almost always bound to award contracts to the lowest bids.
Allen pointed out that it seemed that the next phase would only be a continuation of the first block and wouldn't be difficult for a local engineering firm to handle.
Goodman said he would like to see the project work go to "the most reputable company," pointing out that local contractors have had a history of requiring change orders, driving up the price.
"If we're going to do it right, let's do it right," he said.
Gurley Engineering, a Goldsboro firm, performed the engineering work for the first block, the 200 block of North Center Street. There were two change orders during the construction phase.
Goodman then brought up an ordinance that requires at least 6 percent of work from bid out projects to go to minorities, a measure that Stevens pointed out was inherent in every bid process.
Goodman then turned back to the experience of local firms with Streetscape projects.
"My question is are the local contractors experienced with this," Goodman said.
In the case of Goldsboro, the project entails replacement of infrastructure, including water lines, and moving utilities underground, meaning the project is more complicated than others that might have been bid out.
Another factor is the fact that the next two blocks of Center Street have a very dense population of businesses that will be inconvenienced by the construction if the project moves forward, meaning change orders or delays could have a real impact on the local economy.
Aycock said he felt that if the city were to approve the engineering and design services portion of the project, for a cost not to exceed $300,000, that it should be a sign that the entire project will become a reality. He then addressed the properties downtown that were not well-maintained, asking about the city's ability to demolish buildings and brandishing that ability as punishment for property owners who did not clean up their properties.
"I think you tell them you either do it or we'll tear it down," he said.
Aycock said that while renovating the street through the Streetscape project would be a step in the right direction, there would still be a need for building renovations to truly spur investment downtown.
"We're betting everything on the street," he said.
Stevens pointed out that there were examples that public investment into downtowns led to private investment in many cities, including Goldsboro where two properties previously vacant for years were now being filled next door to Historic City Hall since the Streetscape project's completion.
Aycock said there were buildings on the next block, on the other side of Goldsboro Used Furniture, which are a disgrace.
District 2 Councilman Bill Broadaway, who attended the N.C. Main Street Awards Banquet in Salisbury in January, cited Statesville and Reidsville as examples of businesses coming downtown after streetscape projects.
Allen said property owners are typically reluctant to act without prodding and Downtown Goldsboro Development Corp. Director Julie Metz said it's seen as the city's job to give reasons for property owners to invest.
Aycock wasn't fazed.
"I'd love to see downtown Goldsboro revitalized, but you're going to have to have something downtown to bring people downtown besides the street," he said.
Goodman, who has been an opponent of the Streetscape project since his campaign for office last spring, seized the opportunity to question the project itself.
"More and more we lose more residents moving out of the city of Goldsboro and into the county. We're losing revenue. And the biggest complaint is 'You're not doing anything to fix our neighborhood,'" he said. "I think we need to start not just in the two-block area around downtown Goldsboro, but from further distances and work our way in."
Aycock said he didn't think it mattered where the city started, but said the cost to renovate Center Street was hard to justify, in his mind.
Mayor Al King, another longtime supporter of the project, said the street renovations were about more than just beautifying the street, pointing out the area's infrastructure needs.
"I have no reservations about this project," he said. "If we don't do something (downtown) is going to rot and fade away. Downtown is our future."
Allen asked that the motion, which District 4 Councilman the Rev. Charles Williams had made early in the discussion, be amended.
The measure to approve the engineering and design work had originally been scheduled for a vote during the regular session, but Williams moved for approval during the work session.
Stevens said both he and Planning Director Randy Guthrie would be "concerned" about an amendment to the measure to give the project to a local firm.
"We were looking for a firm that had experience with similar projects," he said.
Goodman moved that the issue be deferred, but King and Williams both reminded him that there was already a motion on the floor.
"Nobody locally has done this type of work," Stevens said.
Allen asked what made the Streetscape project special.
Stevens said that since the city had only done one block of one Streetscape project, it would be helpful to have a firm with a lot of experience involved, especially since there would be a lot of businesses involved in any construction.
The approval of the measure authorized the use of no more than $300,000 for the design and engineering work.
After the design and engineering renderings and plans are completed, the council will consider awarding the construction bid, likely in the fall with construction expected to begin in January 2014.