Downtown Efforts Earn Accolades

Thursday, June 23, 2016

City officials continue to receive recognition for the activity happening in downtown Rocky Mount.

The National Main Street Center, a subsidiary of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, recently cited Rocky Mount as one of 44 North Carolina communities and one of 11 areas in the state receiving recognition for economic vitality and fidelity in following the best-practice standards for historic preservation and community revitalization championed by the center.

According to a release, each year, the National Main Street Center and its partners issue accreditation to Main Street programs across the country. The performance standards set the benchmarks for measuring a community’s application of the Main Street Center’s four-point approach to commercial district revitalization. Standards include fostering strong public-private partnerships, securing an operating budget, tracking programmatic progress and actively preserving historic buildings.

For downtown Rocky Mount, this was another feather in the city’s cap after last month’s “Great Main Street In-the-Making” award. The program was sponsored by the North Carolina chapter of the American Planning Association with Rocky Mount as the only one awarded the In-the-Making award.

Rocky Mount Downtown Development Manager John Jesso said these acknowledgements place downtown Rocky Mount on the national stage and show it’s on the move as a place for people to want to live, play and invest. Rocky Mount has invested $50 million in downtown revitalization projects while the private sector has contributed $10 million in the past 14 years, officials said.

Jesso said downtown Rocky Mount currently is drawing interest from multiple breweries and restaurants.

Also, in the past six months, Tina and Keidrin Moore opened two new stores next to each other beside Davis Furniture on Southeast Main Street selling clothes and shoes called Celebrity Kloset and Exotic Kloset, Jesso added.

“The work over the last several years is beginning to pay off,” he said. “Rocky Mount is a jewel of a city with a lot to be proud of and folks beginning to see what a wonderful opportunity Rocky Mount is to invest in.”

Southern Bank has bought into the city’s effort to resuscitate downtown. Southern Bank Executive Director Michael Bryant said the bank’s new business center is slated to be completed and operational in the middle part of July. The more than 15,000-square-foot building on the corner of Sunset and Church streets will house the bank’s mortgage operations and customer contact center, which employ 50 workers.

The overall construction cost of the downtown project is more than $5 million, Bryant added.

The Rev. Garland Jones, pastor of Mt. Zion Christian Church, has been on the forefront helping to rejuvenate downtown. In addition to the church located downtown on Southwest Main Street, Jones also through the years added a vocational school and is looking for a partner to invest in one building he purchased and has plans for another building he currently occupies to have a youth dance school and space to teach entrepreneurs how to start businesses.

Jones is also a longtime member of downtown Rocky Mount’s central city revitalization panel, which meets to discuss improvements and preservation within downtown.

“I came to downtown with the hope that downtown will be revitalized, and it’s great to see downtown Rocky Mount has hope again,” Jones said. “Those recognitions for downtown kills the negative conversation and it gives new life to downtown. I’m excited about the energy that is coming back to Rocky Mount and downtown.”

Another intriguing project waiting in the wings is the proposed downtown community facility, and residents continue to debate about the merits of the estimated $32 million project. City officials have compared the project on a smaller scale to the success of the Sports Complex, which has brought an annual direct economic impact of more than $9 million geared to youth sports.

The project is included in several applications for $15 million in new market tax credits, but approval of the credits won’t happen until later this year. City Manager Charles Penny has said he is optimistic about getting the tax credits.

“The model of the facility is beautiful and it’s going be very positive for recreating growth in downtown,” Jones said.”I’m very excited about the jobs that could come from it and spurring new growth in downtown.”

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