Six months after it made landfall, Hurricane Florence’s impacts on New Bern’s economy are still being felt throughout the city, but a new development may delay full recovery for some time.
Hurricane-damaged DoubleTree Riverfront hotel is closed indefinitely over insurance coverage issues related to the hurricane. Downtown New Bern will continue to face its worst economic crisis since 2008-10, when access to downtown was crippled by a bridge replacement and road construction projects.
“Business is definitely down,” said Lynne Harakal, director of Swiss Bear Downtown Development Corporation, said about Hurricane Florence recovery. “The best information I can provide is revenues are down about 15-20 percent since the hurricane. In retail, that’s a very large hit. Most small retailers have a profit margin of about 10 percent at the end of the year, so if these percentages continue many of our retailers could be in jeopardy.
“Not having the DoubleTree makes this situation even more ominous. Our downtown businesses need the DoubleTree operational. Furthermore, they need the Conventional Center up and running and a thriving Farmers Market to draw customers to our shops and restaurants.”
New Bern Riverfront Convention Center, a top venue for activities ranging from Marine Corps Birthday balls to corporate shareholder meetings, occupies about 3 acres of the downtown frontage on the banks of the Trent River.
The Convention Center was badly damaged during the hurricane, but is aiming to reopen in the fall. A big piece of its marketing plan has been the presence of a full-service hotel right next door—the DoubleTree Riverfront by Hilton.
Sources said there have already been two cancelled bookings at the Convention Center because of the DoubleTree being closed.
The Convention Center and DoubleTree Riverfront occupy a space previously known as Bicentennial Park and, before that, New Bern’s busy waterfront dating to the 1700s. More
Why does the DoubleTree matter? After all, there are two other hotels downtown, and several others elsewhere in the city.
DoubleTree Riverfront, with 171 rooms, is by far the city’s largest hotel. More importantly, it is New Bern’s only full-service hotel. A full-service hotel offers full service accommodations, an on-site restaurant, and personalized service, such as a concierge, room service, and clothes pressing staff.
The DoubleTree was the hotel Alpha in New Bern, occupying the premiere location along the Trent River between the Convention Center and the N.C. History Center.
Once a full-fledged Hilton and, before that, a Sheraton, the $12 million property in New Bern has been operating under Hilton’s DoubleTree flag for several years.
Singh Investment Group owns one other hotel property in North Carolina (all others are in Georgia), the DoubleTree Oceanfront by Hilton in Atlantic Beach. It, too, was severely damaged by Hurricane Florence and remains closed.
Singh Investment has not answered a request to be interviewed by New Bern Post, and local officials say they have not answered their inquiries since January.
In mid-February, the hotel’s general manager attended a Tourism Development Agency meeting and said that due to litigation with the hotel’s insurance carrier over whether it covered damage from wind-driven rain, the hotel might remain closed.
The hotel owners transferred the general manager and two weeks later laid off the entire staff except the sales manager and a couple of maintenance workers. The sales manager worked to cancel remaining bookings.
This puts downtown New Bern in a bad spot. Take the New Bern Grand Marina, for example. It is under separate ownership, but it partnered with DoubleTree to provide amenities to the marina including showers and laundry.
Then, of course, its impacts on Convention Center bookings, and a large hotel staff that has been laid off.
Then there are other effects. A vast, empty parking lot beside a large hotel is not a good indicator of a thriving downtown.
In short, it puts downtown growth and prosperity at serious risk.
Moreover, the longer DoubleTree remains closed, the harder it will be to bring it back into operation. The DoubleTree may very well go from being one of Downtown New Bern’s crown jewels, to a major liability.
It’s sort of like what the Days Hotel did in Five Points. The Days Hotel went from being in business to derelict to being razed over an eight-year span.
Alderman Sabrina Bengel, when asked what the city could do about the hotel, said, “Nothing. It’s private property.”
She equates DoubleTree with the beleaguered SkySail condominiums right next door to the DoubleTrees and the long-vacant Elks Building smack dab in the middle of Downtown New Bern. They, too, are major properties in the downtown that seek solutions and remain vacant or underutilized.
She said DoubleTree’s owners said they are not interested in selling the hotel, and continue to seek a resolution from the insurance carrier.
Meanwhile, the hotel has not reached the level of nuisance abatement, and is current on its taxes, which total just over $120,000 per year.
While it is true that the hotel is private property, current on taxes, and may not have reached a point where it is a public safety hazard, it is demonstrably true that a vacant and empty hotel has an adverse economic impact on the city.
Cities have used that argument to justify employing eminent domain, the right of a government or its agent to expropriate private property for public use, with payment of compensation.
Whether the city has the stomach for that kind of nuclear option depends on how severe impacts become as the DoubleTree Riverfront remains closed.
The DoubleTree Riverfront by Hilton hotel in New Bern has been closed since Hurricane Florence in September 2018. Google Street View photo
Singh Investment Group is a privately held real estate investment and management firm based in Augusta, Georgia.
The company’s portfolio includes hotels, commercial, and residential developments. With 1,400 guest rooms, SIG has hotels ranging from limited service to full service properties operating under Hilton, Starwood, IHG, and Wyndham flags. With over 1,400 guest rooms, SIG sells itself as “a proven leader in hotel investment and operational management.”
In its Mission Statement, SIG seeks to implement efficient operational strategies that maximize financial performance in order to subsequently result in company growth. This objective is achieved through three key areas: Team Member Development, Exceptional Customer Satisfaction, and Disciplined Financial Management.
Singh Investment’s website includes a section called “Case Studies,” where it touts its successes. Ironically, the section is that the opening page is dominated by a panorama photo of New Bern’s DoubleTree Riverfront hotel.
Case studies shown on the SIG website include DoubleTree Oceanfront in Atlantic Beach. The main photo is of DoubleTree Riverfront in New Bern, which is not included in among the case studies.
The website does not include a case study about the New Bern hotel, but it does have one for DoubleTree Oceanfront in Atlantic Beach. Like New Bern’s DoubleTree, the Atlantic Beach hotel was damaged by Hurricane Florence and remains closed.
Except for hotels in New Bern and Atlantic Beach, all other SIG hotels are in Georgia.
A BSH forklift is unloaded at Craven Community College, to be used in a training program as the manufacturer ramps up its workforce.
BSH Home Appliances, one of the world’s leading manufacturers of home appliances, is expanding the workforce at its New Bern manufacturing and assembly lines to meet demands for its products.
Working in collaboration with Craven Community College (Craven CC) and Blue Arbor Staffing (BAS), BSH is seeking to add approximately 50 new employees to its current workforce.
Craven CC will offer a Manufacturing Career Pathway (MCP) program from March 11-April 11 to help train and screen potential employees. The MCP will be dedicated specifically to the initiative to enhance the success for individuals wanting to start a career with BSH.
This program will provide training in the following topics: Intro to Manufacturing, Forklift Operator Certificate, Lean Yellow Belt, OSHA 10-Hour Safety, Workplace Ethics and Intro to Microsoft Word. Students will also receive hands-on training with mock simulators.
Students who complete the program will work through BAS. BAS will arrange an interview between the candidate and BSH. Candidates chosen after the interview process will start in a temporary position and work toward permanent placement.
Craven CC offers MCP programs throughout the year that conclude with interviews from local manufacturers for potential direct-hire positions. At the conclusion of Craven CC’s last MCP class, 55% of the students were offered direct hire positions with local industries, 18 percent chose to further their education through Craven CC by enrolling in a trade program and 100 percent were asked to complete applications for potential employment through local employment agencies.
For additional information on the program, contact Eddie Foster, Craven CC executive director of environmental safety and corporate training, at 252-638-3919 or firstname.lastname@example.org. To register, contact Cat Johnson at 252-633-0857 or email@example.com.
Buddy Bengel of Bengel Hospitality in New Bern received statewide recognition Monday evening at the 2019 Stars of the Industry Awards, hosted by the North Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association.
Bengel won the Ken Conrad Award for Service to the Community for his dedication to the people of New Bern and his willingness to go above and beyond in his position.
More than a dozen hospitality industry professionals from across the state were honored during the annual event, who were selected based on their exemplary service, leadership, innovation and dedication in the restaurant, lodging and hospitality industries.
Bengel on his Facebook page, said ” I am beyond humbled and honored” for the award.
When Hurricane Florence hit the coast, Bengel staged his mobile food unit in preparation to feed affected residents and volunteers, according to the group.
But Bengel did much more than that. He helped rescue people trapped by flooding and evacuate others in the path of the hurricane, and more.
Did you go by the new Harris Teeter since it opened on Wednesday? Odds are pretty good that you did.
In a small town like New Bern, folks here can be relied on to try something new. Remember when Cook Out opened?
On opening day, I saw city officials including Jeff Odham, in whose ward the new Harris Teeter is located, and City Manager Mark Stephens proudly roaming the vast floor space of the gleaming new store.
Coke Mann, a partner with Columbia Development Group, developer of the shopping center, was quoted in the Sun Journal crediting Odham and Mayor Dana Outlaw for their bringing the super-expanded HT to New Bern.
I saw lots of regular people combing through the almost 100,000-foot feet of shopping space, which is more than just a simple supermarket. (Some say the store actually has 105,000 square feet of floor space.)
We are not wedded to a particular grocery store. We shop at Publix most often, but not exclusively, and mainly due to its modern and wide selection coupled with its less crowded aisles.
With the opening of the new Harris Teeter, that may change.
The store replaces a 55,000-square-foot store on South Glenburnie Road, which closed the day before the new store opened.
It is claimed to be the largest Harris Teeter out of the chain’s 246 stores. Some media outlets have called it the largest in the world, but since its world is pretty much contained within Southern states, that’s a somewhat pretentious claim.
Still, it’s plenty big, and within it are sections that by themselves are impressively large.
There is a Starbucks inside the Harris Teeter, just as there was at the old location, but this one has a dining area that has to make this particular Starbucks one of the largest in the world, and that’s saying something.
Then there is the food court, contained within an area that could be a nice-size grocery store all by itself.
There is a bakery, fresh produce and meats, a deli, a sushi bar, a buffet, a burger bar, a specialty bar with changing themes, and a bar-bar. Yes, a bar … where you can get beer and wine by the glass.
As for the grocery aisles, they are so long they are subdivided, with a third row intersecting at the middle. Looking from one end toward the other, the aisles extend almost as far as the eye can see.
Filling all those aisles with merchandise must be a challenge by itself. I have not looked deeply into it, but the few places I did look showed a much-expanded variety of brands and varieties.
Staffing this store must be equally challenging. I counted six people working at the Starbucks counter, four at the burger bar, three at the beer and wine bar, and so on.
I am not sure if they staffed up for opening week or if they plan to maintain that staffing level.
Sarah, Mark and I went there on opening day and had dinner. We bought a couple of items from the grocery aisles before going home.
We returned on Saturday to find the same buzz one encounters when surrounded by hundreds of happy people. The store is large enough to accommodate a thousand customers without feeling overly crowded.
Sarah got several selections from the sushi train and described the quality as good as any restaurant in New Bern. I went for simple–a burger and fries. The way I figure it, if you can’t do a burger and fries right, then what can you do right?
And boy, did they do it right. It paired nicely with the glass of Mother Earth pale ale that I got at the bar.
While waiting for my order, I ran into four people I knew, and that’s the great thing about a venue like this. It’s a magnet that draws people together, and for more than one purpose.
Before, you would go to Harris Teeter for groceries. Maybe you might grab something from the salad bar or deli or the Starbucks counter, but there was really nothing that set it apart from any other modern grocery store.
This Harris Teeter is not just a retailer, it is a community amenity. You can literally spend the day there, enjoying a fresh breakfast, lunch and dinner, with a couple of glasses of beer or wine later in the day before actually doing any grocery shopping.
Note: the beer and wine bar opens at 10 a.m. daily except Sundays, when it opens at 11 a.m. But who’s judging?
The parking lot is large and full but sufficient and well laid out. Other stores in the shopping center, which is called New Bern Marketplace, round out the remaining two-thirds of retail floor space at the 34-acre, 325,000-square-food retail venue.
One thing it has over Downtown New Bern: parking is not limited to two hours.
So what can you expect at the Teeter?
Greeting you as you arrive at one of the entrances is the floral counter managed by Mary Gierie-Merrell, who Mayor Outlaw has described as New Bern’s unofficial mayor.
At that same entrance, off to the right, is the Starbucks counter with its spacious and open dining area. It is equipped with tables and booths and two big-screen TVs. The window-wall is lined with a long counter with tall chairs for computer users and enough USB ports and electric sockets for every two chairs.
Beyond is the amazing food court, and to its left, the expansive grocery aisles.
One glitch was WiFi. Though it is provided, I was unable to connect to the internet using it. Another quibble is that if you want to sit at a table and plug in your device or computer to a power source, there are just two tables within range of just one wall socket, and they are right underneath a big-screen TV. That may be by design. It is understandable why a store would not want its tables taken up by people using computers all day.
The impacts of the new Harris Teeter on New Bern will be interesting to see.
It will undoubtedly cut into business of other existing grocery stores. But being so large, it will draw shoppers from outside New Bern and maybe from outside Craven County.
When the N.C. 43 connector is extended from U.S. 70 to U.S. 17 in the next few years, it will make access to New Bern Marketplace easier to reach from Pitt and Lenoir residents. It’s already the easiest retail center to reach in New Bern from Jones and Onslow counties.
As I said, this Harris Teeter is not just a store, it is a community amenity.
Harris Teeter’s previous largest stores, measuring at 80,000 square feet of store space, are located in Pinehurst and Charlotte.
The New Bern store is only the second location to have a juice bar.
It is the first to have a build-your-own burger bar.
New Bernwas selected as one of the nation’s top retirement destinations and one of its best small retirement towns byWhereToRetire.comin its sixth edition of “America’s 100 Best Places to Retire,” a guidebook of the country’s most appealing retirement towns.
WhereToRetire.comspent 11 months researching more than 800 cities. The chosen cities vary in size, climate, amenities and lifestyle, and each falls into one of 10 categories that focuses on the city’s defining feature, such as beaches, mountains, low costs, four seasons and appealing downtowns. Each city profile combines extensive research, local knowledge and in-depth interviews with retirees who made the move.
New Bern is a certified retirement community. The Certified Retirement Community designation means a city has completed a comprehensive evaluation process with requirements outlined by the North Carolina General Assembly.Certified Retirement Communities are recognized for providing the amenities, services and opportunities retirees need to enjoy active and productive lives.
New Bern was recognized in April 2015 as one of the “10 Most Beautiful Towns in North Carolina,” and one of the “Top 10 Coastal Towns Where You Can Afford to Retire.”
Founded in 1710, New Bern it is the second oldest city in the state. It was the last colonial capital of North Carolina and its first state capital. “The City is a grand mix of carefully restored and maintained historical homes with old growth trees, a historic downtown, and contemporary houses ranging from condos to mansions, many with riverfront locations,” according to the website,Visit New Bern.
“New Bern’s character is palpable, and the people you meet are as vibrant as their surroundings. In addition to its beauty, New Bern is well-situated at the confluence of the Neuse and Trent Rivers, and only 35 miles from the Crystal Coast. The Atlantic Ocean is accessible by boat from New Bern, and New Bern’s rivers and creeks make a perfect playground for sailing, yachting, kayaking, Stand Up Paddle Boarding and fishing. New Bern has direct access to rivers and beaches without the high costs associated with beachfront living.”
Eight North Carolina cities were selected as top retirement destinations in “America’s 100 Best Places to Retire.” Other North Carolina towns are Boone/Blowing Rock, Charlotte, Durham, Hendersonville, Sylva, Wilmington, and Winston-Salem.
North Carolina had the second highest number of towns on the list, behind only Florida. In addition, Winston-Salem was among the Best Four-Season Towns; Charlotte and Durham were among the Best Low-Cost Towns; and Boone/Blowing Rock, Hendersonville and Sylva were among the Best Mountain Towns.
This map shows Wellons properties including one where developers hope to build a four-story hotel.
The city is considering plans for a four-story, 104-room hotel to be built on 2.82 acres of wooded land off Newman Road, behind New Bern Mall’s back parking lot.
The brand of the hotel has not been named in documents filed with the city.
The developer is East Coast Hospitality, a Washington, N.C. company that has developed 10 Hampton Inn, Holiday Inn Express, Comfort Suites, and Candlewood Suites locations in North Carolina, with single locations in Florida, Ohio and Virginia.
The company’s portfolio includes four hotels in Jacksonville, two hotels in Havelock, and one hotel in Morehead City. This proposed hotel would be its first in New Bern.
The property is owned by CGW Inc. and Jean Elizabeth Wellons Morrice et al of Morehead City.
The Wellons family owned a large swath of land northwest of New Bern Mall and subdivided it. Wellons Boulevard commemorates the Wellons Family’s ties to the area.
The plan will be discussed 9 a.m. Friday, Dec. 14 at the Departmental Review Committee, 303 First St. in the Development Services Conference Room.
WHAT: Information session, “Working with the Division of Employment during a Disaster.” Presented by Lockhart Taylor, the Assistant Secretary for Employment Security for the North Carolina Department of Commerce.
WHERE: Bosch Advanced Manufacturing Center (Bosch AMC) Room 102, Craven Community College (Craven CC), 800 College Court, New Bern NC, 28562
WHEN: Monday, Oct. 22, 2018, 6-8 p.m.
WHO: Small business employers, small business owners, self-employed
WHY: Offered by the Small Business Center at Craven CC, the purpose of this information session by the NC Division of Employment is to help business owners and self-employed in understanding Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA). The session will welcome questions about DUA as well as Unemployment Insurance.
HOW: Online registration is requested by visiting www.cravencc.edu/sbc.
This event is free and open to the public. For more information call 252-638-1166 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
3202 Neuse Blvd., the Howling Dog Saloon. Google Street View photo
The Board of Aldermen gave City Attorney Scott Davis direction to file a lawsuit if necessary that would permanently close down a New Bern bar that has been the location of shootings and fights.
The bar, the Howling Dog Saloon at 3202 Neuse Blvd., was the location of two shooting incidents, one in June that wounded two, and one in May 2017 that left one dead and two injured. A fight in August 2016 left a woman with a severe facial laceration.
ABC recently revoked the bar’s licenses. Davis sought permission to file a lawsuit that would not only permanently close Howling Dog Saloon, but would prevent 3202 Neuse Blvd. from being used as a bar in the future and prevent the operator of the Howling Dog Saloon from operating a bar elsewhere in the city.
Davis said the city has attempted to work with the owner to keep the peace at the location, without success.
The Howling Dog Saloon is also known as Flyers 69. The owner had also owned Flyers 70 at 4310 Highway 70 East (just outside city limits) and Flyers 55 on Highway 55 East in Pamlico County. Both of those bars are no longer in business.
The 3202 Neuse Blvd. location has been a neighborhood bar since it was built in 1965, according to county tax records. Davis said the owner of the building rents it to the bar operator, who he did not identify.