Group reaching out to property owners

Chip Pulliam, far left, the vice chairman of the Mount Airy Redevelopment Commission, leads a meeting of the group Wednesday when plans were discussed for getting more citizens involved in its efforts.

Faced with the task of invigorating a blighted area in town, the Mount Airy Redevelopment Commission is trying to encourage affected property owners to become more engaged in the process.

“It is important to get the property owners involved,” commission member Marie Wood said Wednesday during a meeting of the group at City Hall.

Some owners of sites in the targeted redevelopment area adjacent to the Spencer’s Inc. buildings downtown have been wary of the commission and view it as a hindrance, so Wood says it needs to get the message out that “we’re trying to improve the place.”

Wednesday’s meeting glaringly included no property owners in the target area — which encompasses more than 20 different parcels on Willow, Franklin, West Pine and South streets in addition to Spencer’s, including some long-established businesses.

Since the commission was formed last year, one of its goals has been keeping those owners informed and involved in the redevelopment planning process so there are no surprises. This has occurred against a backdrop of mistrust among some, who have expressed concern about the group’s power to seize property by eminent domain to further its revitalization plans.

Wood, the secretary of the commission that meets the second Wednesday of each month, suggested that it send personal invitations to the property owners and maybe have them accompany its members on visits to other cities where successful redevelopment has occurred.

“And maybe that will spur some interest.”

It was noted Wednesday that the invitation system worked well last September for a public meeting held by the redevelopment group to receive input on its mission. So many people attended that the meeting location had to be switched to a larger room.

Other communities

Chip Pulliam, the commission’s vice chairman, seemed especially excited Wednesday by the idea of having local property owners join the group on an ongoing series of “field trips” to other communities to glean redevelopment ideas.

“If need be, we’d be willing to rent a charter bus,” Pulliam said.

Those visits kicked off on June 10 with a trip to Shelby, which participants said proved to be quite worthwhile.

Other trips are planned to Durham later this month, Hendersonville on Aug. 26 and additional places still to be determined, which involved some brainstorming by the commission Wednesday concerning other potential locations.

The objective is not just those cities that are the same size as Mount Airy — which also happen to be sites of successful redevelopment efforts — but ones mirroring what is sought here.

“I think we need to look at the same kind of buildings,” commissioner member Tom Webb said, “the projects that are similar to what we are doing.”

“I agree,” Pulliam said. “It’s not about the city, but the project itself.”

Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.

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