Although a new redevelopment commission is just getting started — holding its first meeting Monday — members have some definite goals regarding their work, which apparently includes a limited dependency on consultants.
An initial challenge for the group, charged with identifying blighted areas and devising plans to make them economically viable, was to review proposals from three entities proposing to help launch the redevelopment of the former Spencer’s Inc. manufacturing site downtown.
But faced with paying up to $110,000 for such groundwork, commission members seemed more intent Monday on tackling as much of it as they can on their own.
“I see us being a little more proactive than just having a consultant come in and tell us what to do,” said Tom Webb, one of the seven members of the group formed by the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners on April 3.
“There’s a lot expertise on the board here,” Webb said of the new group, which collectively possesses skills in the financial, construction, development and other fields which mirror the intent of the commission’s redevelopment goals.
The revitalization and job-creation potential of the Spencer’s Inc. property, which the city government bought at a May auction, has been disclosed as the main reason for the formation of the redevelopment group. It also includes Alton Gaither, Chip Pulliam, Jarod Simmons and Marie Wood, along with city commissioners Jon Cawley and Steve Yokeley.
The immediate need involves crafting a redevelopment plan for the Spencer’s property which hopefully will entice productive enterprises to locate there and create jobs. That plan could take up to a year, according to Monday’s discussion.
And recently, three entities submitted proposals to provide advisory assistance in helping the commission get started and also perform specific tasks related to the Spencer’s site, with cost estimates ranging from about $36,000 to $110,000.
Those proposals are from Benchmark, a firm that already provides planning services for the city; the School of Government of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; and the Piedmont Triad Regional Council headquartered in Winston-Salem.
While members of the commission said some outside help is needed from such entities, such as legal assistance, Monday’s discussion indicated that they can do much on their own to prepare the Spencer’s site for development. This also will lessen the expense of the process.
Included are plans to attend educational sessions on the redevelopment process, which the commission members can receive free through the School of Government — except for travel expenses.
Webb implied that the three entities offering proposals make this process appear more complicated than it actually is, and portray their involvement as essential.
“It’s a series of steps that must be done, but it’s not that complicated,” added Webb. He has previous redevelopment experience, including neighborhood-revitalization projects in the Jones School and Highland Park communities completed in the early 1980s while he was city grants administrator.
Another commission member, Pulliam, also pointed out that the three plans offered are specifically geared toward the Spencer’s property — although the commission is empowered to focus on additional areas.
Pulliam said the overall scope of work is a key at this point, and more is needed than what’s reflected in the three proposals at hand. “They’re fairly clear, but it’s not the icing I need to eat that piece of cake yet,” he said.
From her vantage point as a member of the new commission, Wood indicated that she sees development of a plan for the target area as the primary need at present. Once it is devised, the commission then can tell such outside groups what it wants from them.
Webb said the commission could “pick and choose” what it needed in that regard from Benchmark, the School of Government and the Piedmont Triad Regional Council. Mount Airy already is a dues-paying member of the latter organization, which entitles it to certain free services.
Members voted Monday to ask the Piedmont Triad Regional Council to explore possible grants related to the revitalization, which won’t require local funds,
“There may be pieces of all of these that you will use,” City Manager Barbara Jones said of the three proposals.
Andy Goodall, a city planner in attendance Monday — and a Benchmark employee — told the group that educating itself was a better move at this point than having representatives of Benchmark and the other two organizations show up to make pitches, one move suggested.
Also as part of its organizational efforts, the redevelopment commission will receive instruction on municipal budgeting from the city manager and Pam Stone, interim finance director, during its next meeting in August.
No city funding has been budgeted for the commission so far.
One of the reasons for creating such a group is that it has greater leeway to take actions regarding targeted properties than a city council.
The commission is empowered to take private property through eminent domain; clear commercial property by razing existing buildings; install or construct site improvements; enter into contracts for construction, demolition, moving of structures and repair work; and implement programs of compulsory repair and rehabilitation using minimum building codes.
But it still must function as a public body under the North Carolina Open Meetings Law, City Attorney Hugh Campbell advised Monday. “You will have to operate as a public group — out in the sunshine.”
Also Monday, Yokeley was picked as the commission’s chairman, Pulliam as vice chairman and Wood as secretary.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.