City Manager Barbara Jones didn’t have to look back far when listing key events in Mount Airy during 2017 from a local government standpoint: a development earlier this month regarding the former Spencer’s industrial property.
Calling 2017 a “busy and exciting year” overall, action occurring during a Dec. 21 meeting of the city council ranks first on her list of highlights.
”We closed the year by selling two parts of the Spencer’s property to Dana Bryson and Ken Reiter,” the city manager recounted regarding the former manufacturing complex downtown which the municipality had bought in 2014 for redevelopment purposes.
Years of planning finally reached fruition this month when projects by those private developers were set in motion with the exercising of options they held to buy the former Spencer’s sites, as approved by the city commissioners.
”Mrs. Bryson will develop an 80-room boutique hotel and banquet hall,” Jones detailed of what will result. “Ken Reiter will construct an 80-unit, market-rate apartment building.”
Earlier, local businessman Gene Rees had repurposed 34,925 square feet of former Spencer’s property into 16 residential condominiums.
“As we move into 2018, there is still much to do with the development of the Spencer’s mill property with plans to be under construction with the hotel and apartments by June 30,” Jones added.
“Once completed, this will be a great asset for our downtown.”
Good for business
The Spencer’s breakthrough came during a year that saw healthy business growth as a whole in town.
“Along with this redevelopment, we have had 35 new businesses open in Mount Airy during 2017,” the city manager reported. Total investment of $18.1 million occurred.
Key projects included the launching of a $2.6 million endeavor to construct an Aldi’s discount supermarket at 1215 State St. on the former site of Gaunce’s Cafeteria. The new store is expected to open next summer.
Other gains in 2017 involving businesses new to the city were the openings of a popular Starbucks coffee shop and a Jimmy John’s sandwich outlet on Rockford Street where a Long John Silver’s seafood restaurant once stood. An Allegacy Federal Credit Union branch was tapped for the same site.
Existing businesses also were active during the year with construction/expansion projects, among them Eagle Carports with a 60,000-square-foot building; Mayberry Campground, a $100,000 expansion; Shenandoah Furniture, $90,000; Cardinal Glass, an $80,000 expansion; and the Chrysler-Jeep dealership on North Andy Griffith Parkway, $100,000.
“We want to create an environment to allow existing and new businesses to succeed,” according to Jones, who also seems proud of the fact that younger people have been choosing to launch enterprises in Mount Airy.
”We have over 20 millennial business owners/professionals with offices downtown in the (central business) district, with that number growing more each year,” she pointed out concerning small business growth.
“Doubling since 2013, new businesses and offices are open downtown, and even more young people are working at established downtown businesses.”
The city manager considers Mount Airy to be “a growing destination for entrepreneurs and new residents at all stages of life.”
City strong financially
The municipality itself also maintained a solid fiscal position during 2017.
“In our general fund we have a total fund balance of $13,352,213,” Jones mentioned, a figure that includes city surplus funds, or savings.
“The amount available for appropriation in the general fund balance is $10,818,869, which is the amount available after restrictions.”
About $4.7 million (32 percent) of the governmental fund balance is non-spendable or restricted.
At the close of the last fiscal year on June 30, expenditures were $2.8 million (18 percent) lower than the final budgeted amounts, with personnel costs $728,846 under final budgeted amounts, according to information provided by the city manager.
The city’s water and sewer fund debt decreased by about $1.2 million (10.4 percent).
A boost to Mount Airy’s revenue situation occurred during 2017 with the receiving of grant funds totaling more than $1 million, which provided money for projects which otherwise would be required from local taxpayers.
These included a $722,500 Golden Leaf Foundation community-based initiative grant awarded in April to assist with the expense of public infrastructure work needed to redevelop the Spencer’s property.
And in September came a $300,000 Appalachian Regional Commission grant to replace water mains in the Factory Street area containing a number of industrial and business entities.
Discussions on the 2017-2018 fiscal year budget were intense at times as the city commissioners sought to balance projected long-term revenue needs with raises for municipal workers and costly major projects such as replacing aging water and sewer lines.
That process concluded with salary increases being granted only for sworn officers of the Mount Airy Police Department, along with a hefty hike in starting pay for incoming patrol personnel.
Through all this, the municipality’s property-tax rate remained unchanged at 48 cents per $100 of assessed valuation.
Jones is hoping to “move forward with the mindset of working together to accomplish goals by recognizing that there will be successes and failures and it takes a team for great things to happen — life is about attitude and perseverance.”
Major municipal projects approved/launched/completed during 2017 included:
• A refurbishing effort for Market Street downtown, a growing business and tourism venue.
• The “Whittling Wall” project to place statues along West Oak Street.
• Revamping public parking facilities in the municipal lot on North Main Street beside Old North State Winery and a lot at Reeves Community Center.
Such developments have Jones and other officials optimistic about what’s yet to come.
“Our hope for 2018 is that God will continue to bless this city.”
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.