New Bern, North Carolina, ranked above its small city peers in Eastern North Carolina, but not so well compared to other small cities in North Carolina or nationally in a new WalletHub report released today.
The study takes into account affordability, economic health, education and health, quality of life, and safety.
Using those measures, New Bern ranks ahead of every other small city straddling or east of Interstate 95, including its closest neighbors considered “small cities,” Greenville and Jacksonville. Smaller towns including Havelock and Kinston were not included in the study.
As for the rest of the state, New Bern falls in the middle of the pack, and in the nation, posted an unremarkable 29th percentile.
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.
Analysis provides a county-by-county update to 2014 data as North Carolina considers Medicaid expansion
Expanding Medicaid would create more than 37,000 new jobs and insure approximately 365,000 more people, according to a new non-partisan analysis. The report was prepared by researchers at The George Washington University with funding from Cone Health Foundation and the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust.
Craven County alone would experience 169 new jobs and 5,720 more people covered by Medicaid by 2022. The county’s economy would grow by $35.5 million, and county tax revenues would increase by $390,000.
In addition to the new jobs created and the hundreds of thousands of uninsured residents gaining coverage, the researchers estimate that the state would increase its business activity by $11.7 billion in just three years, between 2020-2022. It’s money that could be spent on education, infrastructure and other needs.
“Medicaid expansion is a job creator and can extend health coverage to thousands of previously uninsured North Carolinians who are falling through the gaps in our current system,” said Susan Shumaker, president, Cone Health Foundation. “States that have already expanded Medicaid are better equipped to tackle critical health care concerns like opioid addiction and infant mortality rates, issues that need to be addressed here at home in North Carolina.”
The analysis updates a 2014 report, providing a county-by-county look at the number of jobs, new Medicaid enrollees and economic growth that would result from the state expanding Medicaid. With nearly one in six non-elderly adults in North Carolina uninsured (16%)—a rate that is above the national average (12%)—every county, urban or rural, stands to benefit. For example, both an urban county like Wake and a rural county like Burke will create jobs under Medicaid expansion, 4,076 and 456, respectively.
“This report confirms what we’re hearing from families across the state—increased access to quality health care and economic opportunities helps communities thrive, and research shows that expanding Medicaid delivers both,” said Laura Gerald, MD, president, Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust. “Every community stands to benefit fromMedicaid expansion. The evidence shows that closing the Medicaid gap will improve population health, support vulnerable North Carolina families and boost the economy across the major sectors.”
North Carolina remains just one of 14 states yet to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, and according to experts at The George Washington University, Medicaid eligibility requirements in North Carolina are the ninth most restrictive in the country. As a result, nearly 1 million North Carolinians between the ages of 19 and 64 are uninsured.
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)
Habitat organizations across the country are mobilizing to influence policy and system changes at the federal, state and local levels
Nearly 19 million households across the United States are spending at least half of their income on a place to live, often forgoing basic necessities such as food and health care to make ends meet.
In Craven County, 33% or 13,370 households, are cost-burdened and having difficulty meeting their monthly mortgage or rental payments, according to the 2017 statistics reported by the NC Housing Coalition.
A family needs to earn $33,120 per year in order to afford a modest two-bedroom apartment at $828 per month, while the average renter can only afford a rent of $683 per month. The stability that housing should bring continues to remain out of reach for many people.
On Wednesday, Habitat for Humanity of Craven County joined Habitat organizations across the country to launch a new national advocacy campaign aimed at improving home affordability for 10 million people in the U.S. over the next five years.
Marking significant growth in Habitat’s commitment to ensuring that everyone has a safe and decent place to call home, the Cost of Home campaign seeks to identify and improve policies and systems through coordinated advocacy efforts at the local, state and federal levels.
Cost of Home focuses on improving housing affordability across the housing continuum in four specific policy areas: increasing supply and preservation of affordable homes, equitably increasing access to credit, optimizing land use for affordable homes, and ensuring access to and development of communities of opportunity.
Habitat for Humanity of Craven County already has taken several steps toward these goals. In April, Executive Director Mike Williams and Homeowner Services Coordinator Betsy McDonald spent two days in Raleigh with area State representatives to advocate for policies and funding to support affordable housing in eastern North Carolina. Mike Williams also serves as the chair of a sub-committee on the County’s long-term recovery alliance for housing options.
“The impact of hurricane Florence has made affordable housing a major shelter issue in all of eastern North Carolina,” said Mike Williams, Executive Director of Habitat for Humanity of Craven County. “It will take creative and intentional housing legislation and policies, on local and state levels, to solve this issue.”
More details about Habitat’s Cost of Home policy platform and campaign activation are available at habitat.org/costofhome. For more information or to speak to Habitat Craven County about the campaign, please contact Deedra Durocher or Betsy McDonald at 252-633-9599.
Here are some ways you can support the campaign:
Post to social media.Use #CostOfHome, #CostOfHomeCraven, and tag @CravenHabitat.
Write or call your legislators.Tell them to support policies to improve housing affordability.
Tell three friends about the Cost of Homecampaign. Send them a link to this story and ask them to help.
National Travel and Tourism Week 2019, the 36th annual celebration of the contributions and accomplishments of the U.S. travel industry, will take place on May 5-11.
This year’s theme is “Travel Matters,” a recognition of the innumerable ways in which travel enriches lives and strengthens communities. Each day of NTTW will spotlight a different example of why travel matters to America.
For New Bern and Craven County, travel and tourism are so vital that “Travel Matters” are not mere words.
“They are the economic engine for the city, the county, the state – the entire country,” said Sabrina Bengel, chairman of the Craven County Tourism Development Authority. “That’s true whether you are traveling to a campground or a 5-star resort.”
Tourism creates jobs that keeps local economies humming, and brings in sales taxes that pay for vital government services.
“‘Travel Matters’ is quite accurate,” said Tarshi P. McCoy, executive director of the New Bern-Craven County Convention & Visitor Center. “Tourism has an enormous effect on New Bern and Craven County and continues to grow each year.”
True, New Bern has been in recovery mode since Hurricane Florence struck in September 2018. Damage to DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel New Bern-Riverfront indefinitely reduced available downtown hotel rooms by 171 and left the city without its only full-service hotel.
Paradoxically, occupancy tax revenues actually increased to record levels since Hurricane Florence, Bengel said.
That’s one of those “silver lining” situations, as construction workers, insurance adjusters, government officials and others descended on New Bern in response to Hurricane Florence.
That surge is expected to subside by the last quarter of the year, about the same time that New Bern Riverfront Convention Center is scheduled to reopen fresh from repairs.
New Bern’s tourism industry continues to market the city’s unique and historic ambience, and there has been an uptick in business for the city’s Bed & Breakfasts. Pollock Street in downtown alone has six B&Bs offering around 43 rooms, all an easy walk from the Convention Center and other downtown attractions.
Having a major hotel and a convention center simultaneously out of commission affects the city’s ability to attract larger conventions, but the city has adjusted its strategies in order to focus on its many other strengths.
While the city may find it harder to attract large-scale conventions, its ambience and unparalleled services still suit smaller meetings and events.
“We can’t have full conventions but we can accommodate boards of directors,” Bengel said.
Case in point: PepsiCo continues to hold its annual meetings in New Bern, where Pepsi was invented.
Tarshi P. McCoy has been creative in addressing recent challenges while continuing to focus on New Bern’s entrenched strengths, Bengel said.
“The New Bern-Craven County Convention and Visitors Bureau works closely with the hospitality partners to ensure that we promote our amenities and educate travelers on everything the area has to offer,” McCoy said.
Downtown New Bern may have 171 fewer hotel rooms, but two other downtown hotels, Courtyard by Marriott New Bern and Bridgepoint Hotel and Marina, are open, and Havelock, a short drive away on U.S. Highway 70, offers 300-350 additional rooms, Bengel said.
Those amenities, coupled with value-added services including shuttle services, keep Craven County in the tourism game.
That’s not all. Downtown New Bern features a growing and vibrant arts and theatre community and a thriving night life. The area’s ambience is well suited for weddings and events, which by nature of their advanced planning provide stability for inn, venue, and restaurant bookings.
What is National Travel and Tourism Week?
Established in 1983 by President Reagan, National Travel and Tourism Week (NTTW) is the annual salute to travel in America.
During the first full week in May, communities nationwide unite around a common theme to showcase travel’s contributions to the economy and American jobs.
This year, the travel industry is coming together to celebrate why “Travel Matters,” spotlighting a different way travel matters each day to American jobs, economic growth and personal well-being.
SUNDAY: Travel matters to the economy.
Travel generated $2.5 trillion for the U.S. economy in 2018 across all U.S. industries. Here in New Bern, the travel industry generated $142.10 million to the local economy in 2017.
MONDAY: Travel matters to new experiences.
From our national parks to our diverse cities and our scenic small towns, travel is uniquely made in America. Our attractions, restaurants, shops, theme parks, music venues and more—and the people who make them possible—are the best in the world and showcase what makes America great.
TUESDAY: Travel matters to our jobs.
Travel supported 15.7 million U.S. jobs in 2018—that’s one in 10 American jobs, making travel the seventh largest employer in the private sector. Here in New Bern, the travel industry supports According to “Economic Impact of Travel on North Carolina Counties 2017,” prepared for Visit North Carolina by the U.S. Travel Association, the travel and tourism industry directly employed more than 1,170 people in Craven County. Total payroll generated by the tourism industry in Craven County was $29.06 million in 2017. State tax revenue in Craven County totaled $7.79 million through state sales and excise taxes, as well as income taxes. Local taxes generated from sales and property tax revenue from travel-generated and travel-supported businesses totaled $3.13 million..
WEDNESDAY: Travel matters to keeping America connected.
Within the next five years, Labor Day-like traffic will plague U.S. highways on a daily basis and within the next six years, our nation’s top 30 airports will experience Thanksgiving-like passenger volumes on a weekly basis.
Approximately 80 million inbound travelers visited America last year, about half of whom came from overseas. Spending by these visitors supports 1.2 million American jobs.
THURSDAY: Travel matters to health.
Americans are increasingly realizing the value of their vacation time, taking an average of 17.2 days of vacation each year. Yet less than half of that time is used to travel—despite its clear benefits for health.
Those who take all or most of their vacation time to travel report higher rates of happiness with physical health and well-being compared to those who don’t travel as much.
FRIDAY: Travel matters to hometown pride.
Over half of all leisure travel in the U.S. is to visit family and friends, making residents a community’s best tourism ambassador.
The intersection of sports—a key driver of hometown pride—and travel is unmistakable: in 2017, more than 150 million individuals attended sporting events last year across the five major sports teams.
SATURDAY: Travel matters to families.
Travel helps families connect, creating everlasting memories and develop a lifelong bond. When surveyed, most children (61%) say the best way to spend quality time with parents is on vacation. At their core, adults know this: 62 percent of adults say that their earliest, most vivid memories are of family vacations taken between the ages of five and 10.
A local couple is taking over The UPS Store franchise in New Bern from longtime franchisees Pat Drake and Mack Paul, who are retiring after nearly 25 years in business.
Jim and Middleton Hinckley of New Bern will take over management of the store around the end of April. An Open House will be held at the store at 1822 S. Glenburnie Road, New Bern, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, May 4, celebrating the new owners as well as the retirement of the previous owners.
The New Bern store has 1,200 square feet of floor space and employs three full-time and two part-time workers, in addition to the owners.
Jim and Middleton Hinckley discovered The UPS Store franchise was available while looking for opportunities to operate their own small business.
“UPS Stores are franchised with local ownership,” Jim Hinckley said. “It’s a great small business model and I think local ownership is a valuable business attribute.”
The UPS Store locations offer domestic and international shipping, packaging, printing, mailbox services, postal services, drop-off shredding, moving supplies and other small-business services.
Jim Middleton has been spending April preparing for the transition, including two weeks at a training store in Florence, S.C., and two weeks at the corporate headquarters in San Diego, Calif.
“Pat and Mack run a great business,” he said. “We have a great staff in the store so we are excited about that and look forward to getting to know them. The UPS Store offers a lot of services so we’ll be looking for opportunities to grow.”
The Hinckleys have been in New Bern for seven years. They have three children, Brent age 13, Middy age 12, and Marshall age 8.
Jim Hinckley’s background is in car sales, while Middleton Hinckley has a Ph.D. in Biochemistry from the University of Notre Dame. She worked as a postdoctoral fellow at Duke University before starting a family.
“It’s a unique and wonderful town,” Middleton Hinckley said. “For us, The UPS Store is a great way to further our ties to New Bern and contribute to the community.”
Pat Drake moved to New Bern in 1994 from Long Island, N.Y., and opened the New Bern Mail Boxes Etc. franchise in September 1994 (Mail Boxes Etc. became The UPS Store starting in 2002).
She met Mack Paul a month later as a customer. He was a journalist working for the Pamlico News. They married in 1997 and Paul started working at the store in October 1997.
Pat Drake and Mack Paul are known for excellent customer service as well as community service. They were recipients of a Community Fabric Award from the Craven Community College Foundation in 2016, are active in the Tryon Civitan Club, and have helped collect food and diapers for Religious Community Services and the Salvation Army.
With that in mind, they were not interested in selling their franchise to someone who would simply run the business.
“We didn’t want to sell to just anyone,” said Mack Paul. “We wanted someone who would continue our tradition of being active in the community—and they fit the bill.”
“Following Pat and Mack is somewhat daunting,” Middleton Hinckley said. “They not only run a great business, but they are also involved in the community in so many positive ways. We bump into their work and contributions in the area everywhere we turn. We plan to continue our own involvement in the New Bern community as well as many of the contributions Pat and Mack are making through The UPS Store.”
“Pat and Mack have earned their tremendous reputation in the community,” Paul Hinckley said. “Every single person I talk to comments on their tremendous customer service and philanthropy. Community involvement is near and dear to my heart, so I’m looking forward to the challenge of maintaining their example.”
Pat Drake and Mack Paul will remain in the area and continue to make repairs to their home, which was damaged by Hurricane Florence.
“Someone asked if I was quitting the Tryon Civitan Club,” Mack Paul said. “Why would I do that?”
“We’re not moving away. This is still home,” Pat Drake said.
Update: The Board of Commissioners will hold a special called meeting Friday April 26 at 10:30 a.m. in the Commissioners’ Board Room. The purpose of this meeting is to discuss the decision made by the board on April 15 concerning the curbside recycling contract.
Countywide curbside recycling in Craven County will cease on Friday, June 28, 2019. The decision was made by the Craven County Board of Commissioners on Monday, April 15, after learning the cost to taxpayers of curbside recycling collection services will nearly double for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1, 2019.
Craven County and residents of all of the municipalities in Craven County are part of the countywide consolidated recycling program so this will affect all residents with curbside recycling.
“Waste Industries sells recyclables and the demand for recycled material is market-driven. At this time, buyers of recycled materials are not purchasing the same quantity the world is producing. As a result, recycle service providers are not able to sell the material for sufficient revenue and need to increase their service fee to continue providing services,” said Jack Veit, Craven County Manager.
Recycle bins currently provided as a part of Craven County’s curbside recycling program will be collected by Waste Industries on the last day of service the week of June 24.
Recycling is still extremely important to Craven County and citizens are urged to use Craven County’s seven Solid Waste and Recycling Convenience Sites for recycling. Mixed recyclables and paper can be dropped off at no cost on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays from 7 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. and Sundays from 1 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. at the following locations:
• 3555 NC Highway 101, Havelock, North Carolina.
• 605 NC Highway 55 East New Bern, North Carolina.
• 205 Belltown Road, Dover, North Carolina.
• 7775 Highway 70 East, Havelock, North Carolina.
• 4001 Old Cherry Point Road, New Bern, North Carolina.
• 135 Sanders Lane, New Bern, North Carolina.
• 232 Bailey Lane Vanceboro, North Carolina.
Waste Industries will be offering residents subscription curbside services for most areas in Craven County. Waste Industries is currently in discussions with municipalities to determine what, if any, services they would like to provide for their residents. More details on pricing and service areas will be available after May 15.
Residents in areas where subscription curbside services will be offered can call, email or sign up for services online with Waste Industries after May 15.
Craven County’s convenience site recycling program accepts aluminum cans, newspapers with inserts, clear/green/brown glass, #1 PETE clear plastic, #2 HDPE natural plastic, rigid plastic bottles with the neck smaller than the body of the container (except motor oil and pesticide containers), corrugated cardboard and steel/tin cans.
Craven County offers a host of trash and recycling programs including electronics recycling, paint exchange and scrap metal recycling.
For additional information on Craven County’s trash and recycling services please contact Craven County Solid Waste and Recycling at 252-636-6659 or visit www.cravencountync.gov.
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.