By MELINDA WILLIAMS
Pulaski Town Council Tuesday gave its stamp of approval to a citizen-led Redevelopment and Renewal Plan for downtown Pulaski without committing any taxpayer money to the effort.
“The first step is to start the ball rolling and see what interest there is from the private sector,” Councilman David Clark said before making a motion to give council’s affirmation to the project “in principle” so that efforts can begin to form “Pulaski Champions,” the citizen group that will oversee the project.
The motion unanimously passed although Vice Mayor Joseph Goodman at first suggested it might be best to hold off to see what Pulaski County Board of Supervisors thinks of the plan. “I hear there are reservations at the county level. Before we take action I think it would be a good idea to find out what our friends a couple of blocks away are thinking,” he said.
Pulaski County Economic Development Director John White pointed out that the nature of the plan is not dependent upon the county.
“It’s a Community Redevelopment Plan. We hope the county recognizes this is part of the county as well – it’s an important part of the county; a critical part: the county seat,” said White. “We can wait for the county, but I think we can take on the leadership very well.
“We’re not committing anything other than saying lets start the clock and see if there are citizens who can get behind this – The Champions,” he added.
North Carolina architect David Gall, who prepared the plan, presented it to town council, most members of the board of supervisors, citizens, and other community leaders at a special meeting held May 13. At that time, Gall noted the first, and one of the most important, steps is affirmation by the town council and the board of supervisors.
The plan was not discussed at the supervisors’ May meeting and does not appear to be on the agenda for its meeting Monday night.
White asked the council to consider affirming the plan so that the “clock” can begin by establishing Pulaski Champions. He said the plan is about growing revenue, growing the town and saving its assets.
“We have some incredible assets we’re going to lose if we don’t act quickly,” he said, noting that the owners of one town asset (Dalton Theatre) allowed it to crumble. He said it could have “been a magnet for Pulaski on the par of the Lincoln Theatre in Marion.”
Although a group of interested citizens saved the town’s other theatre, he said the theatre alone cannot draw the magnitude of people that are needed to help the town recover.
Councilman Greg East called Gall’s plan a “neat concept” that is “really sound.”
“In my opinion, this is the kind of thing we need to show potential investors when they come into our town; that we do have a plan. I would personally like to see this for every area of our town,” he said.
This particular plan focuses on redevelopment of the area of First Street northeast and northwest from Jefferson Avenue to the iron railroad trestle crossing Peak Creek. However Gall said the goal is to create an atmosphere that will spark growth outside the target area, as well.
Goodman agreed with East that the plan is “very sound.” He said it “has some holes in it we need to address, but I don’t think that stops the plan from getting started.”
He said he has spoken with a couple of developers who feel the “clock” or timeline set forth in the plan is “too fast” and “not realistic” because of the amount of time it takes to get federal grants and permits, plus raising money to make the plan happen.
Goodman said he thinks the project can get started “just by doing one building in the middle.” However, he acknowledged that “doesn’t fix everything” such as the need for additional parking in order to support a restaurant – which is suggested for the main floor of the Dalton building.
Goodman said the issue of whether there will be a wellness or aquatics center, as proposed, also has to be addressed.
Prior to the motion and vote, Mayor Jeff Worrell agreed with East and Goodman’s comments, but added, “I would like to see us go ahead with this. I’d kind of like to see the county follow our lead for a change.”