Residents in the Ghent neighborhood are begging for help from City Hall to do something about cars using residential streets as cut-throughs, raising the question, why wouldn’t City Hall help?
Could it be that City Hall doesn’t want to be seen as responsive when residents ask for help? That’s actually been an argument (“We don’t want to help you because then we’d have to help everyone”).
Could it be that City Hall thinks that throttling back on Ghent cut-through traffic will only push the problem elsewhere? (That actually happened recently when through-traffic was blocked and cars — temporarily — used nearby streets as a detour until they found that First Street is faster).
The real reason is something else, a mile away and an apparently unrelated issue — Farmers Market.
Farmers Market sits on a piece of prime real estate valued at $471,880, according to the county tax office. But that tax value figure belies its true value.
Located on railroad frontage and fixed between the N.C. History Center and Downtown Proper, this 1.2 acre parcel has been occupied by New Bern Farmers Market since 1984 (note: typo corrected from 1994).
The property was acquired by the Redevelopment Commission and then sold to the city for $10 in 1978. The enclosure on the property was purpose-built for the Farmers Market.
Farmers Market was originally seen by City Hall as an asset that attracted people downtown during a time when Downtown New Bern was getting back on its feet following years of decline.
The waterfront along the Trent River, once teeming with industry, had become derelict, nothing like what it is now today, and Farmers Market was one of the first improvements that helped downtown revitalization.
The city charged Farmers Market $1 a year to use the property, but when Dana Outlaw became mayor, something changed.
Outlaw, the son of a former New Bern city manager, started ridding City Hall of what he perceived as surplus properties.
He also ended city contributions to non-profits that had been helping the city in numerous ways, such as Swiss Bear Downtown Development Corporation, which was primarily responsible for downtown’s turnaround, and New Bern Firemen’s Museum, which was in a city-owned building and also charged $1 rent.
The city sold the Dunn Building kitty-corner from City Hall and moved offices around to other city-owned buildings, including a former elementary school on First Street between Spencer Avenue and Trent Boulevard.
City Hall owns other properties — numerous houses that it foreclosed on when cash-strapped owners were unable to afford repairs and then the demolition costs when the city bulldozed the houses, and a large parcel of wetlands between the Pembroke Community, U.S Highway 70, Carolina Avenue, and Trent Road that it is selling part of to the New Bern Housing Authority to build low-income apartments.
City success in the real estate business is hit and miss. The houses in its inventory earn nickels on the dollar when sold compared to the cost the city incurs in legal fees, demolition, and marketing.
It has been having trouble selling the old Firemen’s Museum on Hancock Street, and when a group of artists offered to rent it from the city, the city stole the idea but then failed at starting its own artist studio.
That wasn’t the first time City Hall tried to muscle in on the success of local non-profits.
Which brings us to the old Power Plant between First Street, Rhem Street, and Park Avenue.
After years of industrial use, the 3.8 acre parcel is an environmental nightmare beneath a thin layer of asphalt. No one in their right mind would ever buy such a property, given the high clean-up costs, although the county tax office values it at $339,720.
Stuck with surplus property that it could never sell, leaders at City Hall came up with an idea that they thought would kill two birds with one stone.
They would move, voluntarily or otherwise, Farmers Market from its attractive property downtown to the Power Plant property, once the city completed various improvements to accommodate Farmers Market needs.
The First Street property is a turd, but they would make it a shiny turd.
Unsurprisingly, members of the New Bern Farmers Market and downtown businesses and visitors resisted the idea. The timing wasall in the Farmers Market’s favor.
Even if City Hall evicted the Farmers Market at the end of its lease, the Farmers Market had a one-year extension option that, if it exercised the option, would have them being evicted the month before municipal elections in 2017.
The city backed down and granted another 5-year lease, but this time increased the rent to $500 a year (ed. note: corrected from per month).
Meanwhile, City Hall hunkered down. It claimed that instead of there being a farmers market-style City Market, it would partner with Craven Community College to hold courses at the newly branded VOLT Center.
But secretly, some city leaders held on to the idea of a farmers market, seeking grants and other funding using a technique called fraud. At least one grant application withheld key information, not the least of which was the implication that New Bern didn’t have a farmers market and City Market would fill that void.
Chemical contaminants and misleading grant applications aside, City Hall faced other obstacles in creating a new farmers market to put the existing one out of business.
The old electric generation plant, located between Country Club Road/First Street, Park Avenue, and Rhem Street, has access issues.
First, Country Club Road/First Street was butt ugly.
In fixing that problem (you may have guessed already, the city got someone else to foot the cost, namely N.C. Department of Transportation, aka state taxpayers), street engineers employed a concept called “Road Diet,” which is the latest thing at street engineer cocktail parties.
They took the street, a four-lane monstrosity with occasional sidewalks and plenty of eyesores, and spiffed it up, turning it into a two-lane street (with center turn lane), bike lanes, and sidewalks on both sides.
That led to another problem. N.C. DOT said it would do the work, but resisted the idea of there being an entrance to City Market off First Street. It would be too close to freeway onramps and offramps, they said.
That forced City Hall to figure out a different way for hundreds of visitors to get to their future farmers market, which left one choice: Rhem Street.
Rhem Street is one block long and located within a commercially zoned district, although there are just as many houses on Rhem Street as there are businesses.
The two main ways to get to Rhem Street are from Country Club Road, and from (drum roll) Second Street.
See what they did there?
To put New Bern Farmers Market out of business, City Hall has to keep Second Street open to commercial traffic, even though Second Street, just two and one-half blocks long, is located entirely in a residential district.
Connecting the dots, it leads directly back to the property on which New Bern Farmers Market is now located.
For some reason, forces inside City Hall want New Bern Farmers Market off the property on South Front Street really, really badly, either by moving it to another location, or by putting it out of business.
The question is, who wants that downtown Farmers Market property so badly that they have City Hall in their back pocket, fighting fiercely to get it done?
The answer is reached the old fashioned way: Follow the money.
Ever since Jeffrey Odham, then a candidate for Ward 6 alderman, ran on a campaign of running city hall like a business, I was apprehensive.
Once he took office, I started to see exactly what he meant.
He wasn’t talking about a business that puts customer satisfaction first. He was talking about the American concept of business efficiency — low cost, high profit, declining customer service, cut-throat competitiveness, and poor responsiveness to customer needs and wants.
There are numerous examples that bear this out.
There’s the example of City Hall pushing the Firemen’s Museum out of its old location on Middle Street into the old fire station on Broad Street. This was part of a push by the Board of Aldermen to get rid of surplus properties, even if the property is being used for the betterment of the community.
Once the Firemen’s Museum finished moving, the old building sat vacant. Despite some initial interest from buyers, the city was simply unable to sell the building.
Then a group of artists who had been forced out of their previous studio approached the city about renting the old museum property.
That brings us to another example, one of cut-throat competitiveness.
The artists wanted to rent the building for the non-profit rate (usually $1 a month or a year) or if not that, as low as possible, and in turn would provide numerous services and amenities to the community.
Something similar is happening with New Bern Farmers Market. The city tried to force it from its city-owned location on South Front Street to the old electric generation plant off First Street. City strong-arm tactics to get its way failed but only due to the proximity of municipal elections, which would occur at precisely the same time City Hall would be evicting the Farmers Market. Rather than face the wrath of angry voters, city leaders extended the Farmers Market lease for five years but increased the rent from $1 a month to $500 (the only example of the city charging a non-profit anything other than token rent).
City Hall plays the long game, however. If it can’t get New Bern Farmers Market to move, it plans to start its own, fraudulently going after government grants to help pave the way, with the ultimate goal of putting New Bern Farmers Market out of business so it can sell the property on which it operates.
Let’s also not forget the draconian utility deposits the city imposes on people having a hard enough time as it is keeping up with high utility costs.
Let’s not forget the place where you pay your electric bill. Until complaints came to light, they locked their doors 15 minutes before closing time and even closed their public restrooms.
The pettiness just keeps on coming.
These are not the only examples of City Hall being “run like a business,” they are just some examples.
Except where the law requires public participation, City Hall treats city residents (those without wealth, at least) as annoyances. City officials treat citizens disdainfully and ignore their requests whenever the law allows it.
Paradoxically, city workers continue to provide high levels of customer service despite what their management forces on them. Utility workers, police patrolmen, firefighters, desk clerks, street workers and more, they all get the job done.
My belief is that a city should not be run like a business, but should be run like a cooperative.
Citizens are stakeholders, not customers. The money they pay for their rents and mortgages, along with taxes they pay for goods and services, fund an organization that provides for the safety and well-being of these stakeholders.
They are represented by a board of directors, which in this case is the Board of Aldermen. It is each board member’s responsibility to interpret and represent the needs and wants of their constituency to the city executives that carry out those tasks.
But that’s not how it has been working.
Instead, ambitious city officials have been launching a series of vanity projects that will look good on their resumes and that they can point to with pride when it comes time for asking for raises.
Meanwhile, New Bern becomes less and less affordable, with some of the worst housing affordability rates in the state. That should worry everyone.
If entry-level workers can’t afford to live here, New Bern won’t have the entry-level workforce that is the foundation of New Bern’s commerce and tourism.
It takes a community to be a community, but go ahead, Alderman Odham and the rest who stand behind him, keep running the city like a business, searching for profits, and discouraging “undesirables” from living here.
City Hall may play the long game, but it doesn’t play the sustainable game.
New Bern Post welcomes letters and posts them whenever possible.
A syndicated newspaper life-coach warns against “getting catfished.” Every ready to learn new slang, I brought the question of what this phrase meant to a reference librarian. She said getting catfished means that one person in an on-line communication has adopted a false identity or is being less that truthful in personal matters.
The source of the phrase, according to the librarian, is that one party may be expecting a flounder, but, alas, pulls up a lowly, bottom-feeding catfish (who happens to be ugly as well.)
Leaving aside for a moment the fact that flounders are also bottom-feeders and not really that handsome, given two eyes on one side of their face, I must protest.
Making catfish the subject of phrase such as this, is, well, slanderous, unfair and cruel.
Catfish happen to be delicious, either filleted or made into a stew and by that time their appearance and what they eat is largely forgotten.
Does no-one even think about a catfish’s feelings? Relationships are often something to stew over but I don’t think that is the reason catfish were chosen for this slur. I suspect catfish bigotry from that segment of the elite which may not know the difference between a hook and a sinker, but are only too willing to go to the natural world for fishy metaphors.
New Bern received a mediocre score for family friendliness in North Carolina from WalletHub, a website that produces data-driven articles ranking various subjects in various categories.
In ranking North Carolina cities for “2019’s Best Places to Raise a Family in North Carolina,” New Bern ranked 56th out of 87 cities. The top-ranked city was Cary, while coming in at 87th was Laurinburg.
In Eastern North Carolina, Havelock — you read that right — was the highest rated city in the survey, coming in at 35th. Other Eastern NC cities were Wilmington (44th), Greenville (53rd), Jacksonville (59th), Wilson (70th), Elizabeth City (75th), Tarboro (77th), Goldsboro (81st), and Kinston (84th).
Taking just Eastern North Carolina cities into account, then, New Bern ranked fourth, just behind Greenville and ahead of Jacksonville.
The rankings took into consideration 10 metrics, of which New Bern did better than average in just three: violent-crime rate per capita, unemployment rate, and playgrounds per capita.
New Bern ranked low in several categories, including percentage of families with children under age 17, median family income, and high school graduation rate. It rated near the bottom — 72nd — in housing affordability.
New Bern appears at the top of many lists, from Top Charming Small Towns to Top Small Retirement Towns, but these are typically niche categories. Raising a family is about as fundamental to a city’s purpose as you can get, and New Bern’s ranking, indeed rankings of all Eastern North Carolina cities, should raise some red flags and help policymakers in making decisions.
The data used in these rankings is entirely publicly available, and is the same information that companies look at when determining expansion and relocations.
True, New Bern is constantly looking for ways to up its game. But take one example, the planned Martin-Marietta Park. New Bern already ranks high for playgrounds per capita (24th in the state). Martin-Marietta Park won’t move the bar one iota in rankings such as these, even if it’s a park that is physically larger than most of Craven County’s smaller cities.
The focus should be where New Bern and Craven County are average or weak — median family income, quality of school system, high school graduation rate, poverty rate, and perhaps foremost, housing affordability.
Here are specific rankings for New Bern:
Raising a Family in New Bern (1=Best; 43=Avg.; 87=Worst)
64th– % of Families with Children Aged 0 to 17
57th– Median Family Income (adjusted for cost of living)
Craven County commissioners will be reconsidering a short-sighted decision to end curbside recycling following backlash from citizens upset by the decision.
Commissioners made the decision on April 15 rather than double the fee due to cost increases.
This is one of those no-win situations for the board, a majority-Republican group with two newcomers (E.T. Mitchell and Denny Bucher) hesitant to raise taxes or fees because, well, they’re Republicans.
But here’s the thing: ending curbside recycling forces people to do one of three things: discard their recyclables with the regular garbage; make trips to county convenience centers to drop off their recyclables; or toss their recyclables into the woods or by the side of roads along with their other garbage because people like that suck.
For those of us who actually try to be law abiding and who care about the environment, throwing out recyclables with the regular garbage actually violates county rules that forbid recyclables from going into the landfill.
On top of that, citizens would be charged $3 for every 33 gallons of recyclables they illegally send to the landfill.
On top of that, the amount of materials going into the landfill would increase significantly, reducing the life of the landfill. You want to talk about spending taxpayer dollars? Try expanding landfills or opening new ones.
The good news is, commissioners are going to reconsider their decision.
The Board of Commissioners will hold a special called meeting Friday April 26 at 10:30 a.m. (I know! The time sucks!) in the Commissioners’ Board Room at the corner of Broad and Craven streets. The purpose of this meeting is to discuss the decision made by the board on April 15 concerning the curbside recycling contract.
So here’s the other side. If county commissioners vote to continue curbside recycling, they will be accused of increasing taxes and fees by the usual group of folks who can’t see past this evening’s episode of Hannity.
The reason recycling has become an issue is because China has stopped accepting U.S. recyclables. We as a nation do a terrible job of separating our recyclables and properly preparing them, and the Chinese have decided it’s not worth the effort and expense to process it.
I know this doesn’t apply to New Bern Post readers, who statistically are better educated about such things and care about the environment. But, sad to say, you are in the minority.
If you want to make sure county commissioners do the right thing and continue curbside recycling, show up at Friday’s meeting.
I read an article the other day about who makes the best cheeseburger of the top three burger chains, Wendy’s, McDonald’s or Burger King.
The reviewer gave Wendy’s and McDonald’s a tie for first. However, it was an unfair contest. More on that in a second. Anyway, I repeated the test and came up with my own result.
The reviewer compared regular cheeseburgers from Wendy’s and Burger King, but the Quarter Pounder with Cheese from McDonald’s, which gave an unfair advantage to McDonald’s. The Quarter Pounder with Cheese is one of McDonald’s premium menu items, and why the author chose it over McDonald’s regular cheeseburger, I don’t know.
Obviously, comparing apples to apples, the comparison should have included McDonald’s regular cheeseburger.
Duplicating the online article that I read, McDonald’s QPWC was the clear winner. It had more of everything, and in just the right amounts. And now that McDonald’s is preparing its premium beef patties the way its competitors are, it is no longer disadvantaged.
The Wendy’s and Burger King cheeseburgers were sorry little affairs and their beef patties were overwhelmed by the same thing, pickles. The only exception was BK’s — its charbroil flavor was the first thing I tasted, and it seemed almost artificial it was so distinct and long lasting. The flavor still lingers now, 40 minutes since I ate it.
I eat McDonald’s plain cheeseburgers all the time. I prefer Wendy’s of the top three burger chains, but I do occasionally eat at McDonald’s, and when I do I order the double cheeseburger meal.
Had I included McDonald’s regular cheeseburger instead of the QPWC, it still would have won.
As for premium burgers, I prefer Wendy’s singles or doubles, and really would prefer not to eat Big Macs and Whoppers. Also, I am fond of Sonic’s burgers and not fond of Cook-Out’s, although I don’t understand why. Cook-Out burgers have all the right things, but there is just something a little off about them.
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.
I seem to always be confused with the operations of this great city of ours. The Sun Journal ran an article last week announced the grand opening of the new art gallery on South Front Street. This group, now called “Community Artists Gallery and Studios” is the same one that was forced to abandon their previous location on Broad Street due to water issues. But, isn’t this also the group the old Firemen’s Museum is being modified to accept? I recall our Board of Aldermen voted to spend $25,000 to update the city’s building on Metcalf Street to accommodate this identical group.
It appears the artists have already found an alternate place where they may actually operate as proposed when they offered to lease the old Firemen’s Museum. It was never clear to me why they offered to pay just $500 per month for the city’s space, and that figure sounded much too low to me. I recall the Mayor mentioned a more rational rate might be closer to $2,500 per month. Then, for reasons I never understood, the Board of Aldermen voted to look into a scheme where the city would take over the operation of the building and make spaces available to the artists. They would also make space available to other artists not a part of the original group on Broad Street.
So, what went wrong? The impression I got from listening to all of this was the city assumed the original CAW group would take the majority of the new spaces and extra spaces would be made available on a first-come-first-serve basis. I could be completely wrong, but it seems to me that the solid base of artists the city expected to participate has flown the coop. And, quite frankly, that doesn’t surprise me. I thought at the time all of this was evolving that the city was trying to usurp the whole idea that was the basic design of the CAW group.
Instead of renting the Firemen’s abandoned building to the CAW and allowing the group to sub-rent and manage the space as they proposed, the city decided to turn the whole idea to the city’s advantage. Now, I do not know what actually happened, but I would have been really upset if that happened to me. I would take my marbles and go elsewhere. And, that appears to be what has actually occurred.
So, the real question today is, “Are there enough total paying artists in this area to fill the available spaces on South Front street as well as the spaces in city’s building on Hancock?” If the answer is “Yes” then we have no problem. If the answer is “No” the city seriously needs to rethink this whole idea of becoming the owner/manager of an art gallery. I hope this is on the agenda for the very next BOA meeting. It is very possible we are wasting a pile of tax payer dollars to build something that is unnecessary.
The real question I would like to have answered is, “Why did the city fail to negotiate a reasonable rent and accommodate the artists?” I cannot believe the artists are renting the building on Front Street for $500 per month. But, is the rent $2,500 per month? You see, there was a correct rental amount that would have satisfied the city and the artists. But, we never got to that point because everyone went off half-cocked and failed to work this out rationally. At least, that is what I think I have witnessed. Please tell me I am wrong. Better yet, please tell me this is going to end well.