Category: Economy and Employment

October 4th, 2018 by newbernpostadmin

Pictured are left to right, Ervin Patrick, PIE past president; Millie McLaney Chalk with Duke Energy; Darlene Brown PIE executive director; and Don Brinkley, PIE president.

Craven County Partners In Education won a grant from Duke Energy for $4,500 for the STREAM Lab at Bridgeton Elementary.

The grant demonstrates  Duke Energy Foundation’s continued support of education, environment, economic and workforce development, and community impact. This grant will take Bridgeton Elementary’s STEM Lab to a STREAM Lab (including reading and art) and expand it to include grades K-2.

The mission of Craven County Partners In Education is to support and advance educational experiences within Craven County Schools through collaborative community involvement.  If you would like to learn how your organization can make a difference through Craven County Schools’ local education foundation, PIE, contact Darlene Brown, Executive Director, at 252-514-6321.

Posted in Business, Craven County Schools, Economy, Economy and Employment, New Bern

September 27th, 2018 by newbernpostadmin

FEMA has opened a Disaster Recovery Center (DRC) at the old Eckerd/Rite Aid store located at 710 DeGraffenreid Ave. in New Bern. The DRC serves as a one-stop location for citizens affected by Hurricane Florence to apply for disaster assistance and other benefits available to them through support agencies. Valuable state, local and federal resources will be provided at the DRC which will be open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. beginning Thursday, Sept. 27, until FEMA determines the community needs have been met.

Steps available:

  1. Online at www.DisasterAssistance.gov
  2. Call the FEMA Helpline at 800-621-3362. Applicants who use 711 or Video Relay Service may also call 1-800-621-3362. Persons who are deaf, hard of hearing or have a speech disability and use a TTY may call 1-800-462-7585
  3. Download FEMA’s mobile app
  4. 4. Visit the Disaster Recovery Center

Registering with FEMA is required for federal aid, even if you have registered with another disaster-relief organization such as the American Red Cross, or local community or church organization.

For more information Craven County’s Hurricane Florence recovery efforts, visit the Craven County website at www.cravencountync.gov, on the Craven County Facebook page @cravencounty and the Craven County Emergency Management Twitter account @cravencountync. Visit the Craven County website to register to receive emergency notifications via text, email and phone calls through the CodeRed Emergency Notification System.

Posted in Craven County, Craven County Schools, Economy, Economy and Employment, Housing, Hurricane, New Bern

September 25th, 2018 by newbernpostadmin

Weyerhaeuser Company (NYSE: WY) announced it will donate a total of $250,000 to several organizations providing relief efforts in eastern North Carolina in the wake of Hurricane Florence.

The grants will be distributed to disaster-relief and community-service organizations in the company’s operating areas. The Coastal Carolina and Eastern North Carolina chapters of the American Red Cross will receive support for their relief work in Craven, Beaufort and Washington Counties.

Additional donations will be made to the Salvation Army for efforts in Beaufort and Washington Counties; Religious Community Services (RCS) for needs in New Bern; and Disaster Recovery Partner for support in Pitt County.

“We’re pleased to announce donations to our community partners who are providing much-needed relief for the citizens of eastern North Carolina,” said Brian Chaney, Regional Timberlands Manager. “More than 500 Weyerhaeuser employees call this area home including the Timberlands management team based in Vanceboro. The company’s support for local relief organizations will complement all the ways they are helping neighbors and giving back in their communities during this challenging time.”

Alan Sherrington, East Region Manufacturing Vice President, added: “Our employees and communities were significantly impacted by Hurricane Florence. Weyerhaeuser will be part of this long recovery and we are grateful for the critical work our partner organizations do in times like this. We appreciate the close-knit family of Weyerhaeuser employees and the supportive communities near our lumber mills in Vanceboro, Greenville and Plymouth.”

Weyerhaeuser Company is one of the world’s largest private owners of timberlands, with 12.4 million acres under its ownership or control. The company has been in business since 1900.

Posted in Business, Economy, Economy and Employment, Hurricane, New Bern

September 6th, 2018 by newbernpostadmin

Map from Realtor.com identifying the most affordable retirement towns in the nation.

Realtor.com listed New Bern as the fourth least expensive retirement town in the nation.

With a median home list price of $209,800 and a share of residents aged 60 and up at 26.8 percent, New Bern ranked fourth after  Sebring, Fla., Sierra Vista, Ariz., and Ocala, Fla.

“Not everyone wants to retire on the ocean, especially in the wake of last year’s devastating Hurricanes Harvey and Irma,” the website said. “For the well-known town of New Bern, located along Neuse River, this has actually worked to its advantage.

“‘People are scared of hurricanes and don’t want to be on the beach,’ says Steve Tyson, a broker in New Bern. New Bern is close enough for a day trip to the shore, but just far enough away for when storms roll through. And retirees like that New Bern isn’t packed with tourists either, despite its historical chops. (Fun fact: This is the original state capital of North Carolina, not Raleigh.)

“Folks here are pleasantly surprised to learn that their 2,500-square-foot home will have a property tax bill of only around $2,500—a bargain compared with what they were paying up north.

“In addition to all the outdoorsy opportunities, many boomers are lured to the area by the commercial airport in town. The Coastal Regional Airport  has direct flights to Atlanta and Charlotte—something many small retirement towns can’t say.”

The most expensive retirement town? San Luis Obispo, Calif., where a median home list price is $729,600.

The full article can be found here.

Posted in Economy, Economy and Employment, Housing, New Bern, Retirement

April 17th, 2018 by newbernpostadmin

Sputtering debate over NC internet access may have new urgency

A new report shows the uneven spread of high-speed internet technology across rural and urban areas of North Carolina.  Courtesy of the North Carolina League of Municipalities

Talk of spreading broadband internet access to the far reaches of North Carolina as an economic development engine and an equalizer in the education divide is as old as dial-up service and squawking modems.

A legislative proposal to overhaul North Carolina’s broadband rules may accelerate the long-sputtering debate over the state’s role in ensuring access to high-speed internet service.

Also pushing the conversation forward is a new report that examines the urgency of improved access for the state’s economic future.

More

Posted in Business, Economy and Employment, Technology

April 15th, 2018 by newbernpostadmin

City Laundry, New Bern’s quirky foodie/coffee/wine/beer/live entertainment venue on Pollock Street, is closing on April 30, according to a Facebook post.

Here is the post:

“It has been a wonderful ride, but we will close our doors on April 30th. We want to invite everyone to come say goodbye at any of our upcoming events (we have event pages for all of them). You can call us or message us here for a reservation to any of our last events. 252-876-7007. New Bern has been great to us, we thank you all for your support!”

Here is a link to the Facebook event.

Posted in Business, Community, Economy and Employment

March 24th, 2018 by newbernpostadmin

A group spearheaded by Ebenezer Presbyterian Church Pastor Robert and retired chemist Anne Schout is taking the initiative to fix problems in the Duffyfield neighborhood of New Bern.

The group is called Duffyfield Phoenix Project, and it plans to lead a wide range of projects in Duffyfield, including:

  • Assessment of Duffyfield’s properties, their conditions and their owners. Determine which properties need upgrade or repair, whether owners want or need assistance, and which properties could be razed.
  • Obtain grants for infrastructure and housing improvements.
  • Improve the appearance of two cemeteries and apply for a grant to pay for a brick entrance to Evergreen Cemetery.
  • Reinter 13 African Americans whose remains were moved from Cedar Grove Cemetery to Evergreen Cemetery in 1913.
  • Education workshops for GED, basic finances, money management, credit repair, etc.
  • Establish a Farmers Market in Duffyfield.
  • Start and sponsor regular Duffyfield Clean Up events.
  • Request the city install public trash receptacles.
  • List all properties that are subject to flooding, and work with the city to find permanent solutions.
  • Clean up and enlarge the Duffyfield Canal to stop erosion and improve drainage.
  • Identify which streets in Duffyfield need repair or paving.
  • Work with the city to strengthen and enforce housing ordinances to encourage property owners to fix their properties.
  • Establish transportation, partnering with the city and county, to grocery stores, doctors and pharmacies.
  • Develop a program for housing subsidies for police, firefighters, and teachers to live in Duffyfield.

Close-up of a map inventorying properties in Duffyfield. The inventory identifies the type of property ownership, whether owner-occupied, rental, city-owned, or divided among heirs.

The group also wants to develop a plan for vacant, buildable lots by enlarging the scope of the Duffyfield Phoenix Project to include a community housing development organization that will focus on revitalization of Duffyfield and the surrounding area. The group hopes this would encourage new home construction.

Johnson and Schout met when Schout was running for Ward 1 alderman in the 2017 municipal elections. Schout noticed a huge need in the Duffyfield area while she was knocking on doors campaigning for office, while Johnson has worked on behalf of the poor and homeless in New Bern since 1980.

“When anyone walks the streets of Duffyfield, they see an area that is forgotten, neglected and in serious need of attention. What was once a thriving, vibrant community is suffering the effects of years of decline,” according to a presentation by the group.

Schout and Johnson formed the Phoenix Group and started recruiting board members in November 2017. The group is operating as a 501(c)3) under the aegis of the James City Historical Society.

On the board, Johnson is chairman and Schout is vice chairman and secretary.

Other members are Coleman “Sully” Sullivan (treasurer) and board members Robert Benjamin, Elijah Brown, Sharon Bryant, Grace Hudson, the Rev. Ethel Sampson, Jim Schout, Ben Watford, and John Young.

The group has already made a presentation to Duffyfield area residents. Anyone interested in learning more about the group can contact Anne Schout to schedule a presentation. Email her here.

 

 

Posted in Economy and Employment, Housing, New Bern

March 24th, 2018 by newbernpostadmin

Updated 3/25/2018 at 10:23 a.m.

Now that the Craven Terrace low-income housing project has been outsourced, downsized, and renovated, the New Bern Housing Authority is turning its sights on what to do about Trent Court.

In a memo to the Housing Authority Board of Commissioners (members listed here), Housing Authority Executive Director Martin Blaney said the agency is going to apply for a 9 percent low-income housing tax credit from the N.C, Housing Finance Agency, but first must “secure site control of an eligible and competitive location.”

The “competitive location” would be used to build new low-income housing to add to, and in some cases replace, housing stocks in Trent Court.

As of now, that competitive location is a 30.8-acre, city-owned property off Carolina Avenue between the Pembroke Community, Trent Road and U.S. 70 (maps, left and below left).

The parcel is more than twice the 14 acres the Housing Authority owns that includes Trent Court, New Bern Tower, and numerous other residential structures, although, according to Housing Authority Commissioner Bill Frederick, only 9.7 acres are not subject to flooding and would be usable for housing.

Google Maps close-up shows the location of the Carolina Avenue property.

Little has been discussed publicly about the Housing Authority’s plans for Trent Court over the past seven years, while at the same time it was privatizing and renovating  Craven Terrace, a larger housing project located north of Broad Street.

Craven Terrace was quickly identified as an area worth preserving for public housing, mainly because of its lack of market potential. Surrounded by small parcels with low property values, Craven Terrace is much larger than Trent Court and presented a bigger problem in terms of relocating residents there.

In the end, the Housing Authority secured historic status for the buildings in Craven Terrace, which in turn allowed for tax credits that helped pay for renovations, razing several buildings subject to flooding, and adding amenities including a playground and laundry facility. The Housing Authority also outsourced management of Craven Terrace.

Trent Court is less than half the size of Craven Terrace in acreage and number of residents. But more importantly, its proximity to Tryon Palace, the Historic Downtown District, and a navigable waterway make it much more commercially attractive for would-be developers.

The 30-acre Carolina Avenue property is wooded and undeveloped. It stretches from the lower left center to the upper right corner of this picture. Google Maps photo

Enter Carolina Avenue. The largest single undeveloped parcel owned by the city at more than 30 acres, it is not included on the city’s surplus properties for sale website. Wooded without any buildings, it is unique in New Bern in that it is both a waterfront property (there’s a small lake formed when N.C. DOT quarried dirt and gravel to build the U.S. 70 bypass) and has access to Trent Road.

Still, due to the wetlands, only a third is developable.

Housing Authority officials have been quietly approaching city officials, the Board of Aldermen, and the Pembroke Community about acquiring the Carolina Avenue property for subsidized and low-income housing.

“The NBHA bid was $200,000,” Commissioner Frederick told the Post. 

“Initial discussions with the city were promising,” Blaney said in his memo. “However, more recent discussions have been frustrating with aldermen indicating they would be willing to ‘swap’ the Carolina Avenue site for complete control of the Trent Court property. This was not acceptable. Also, our offer to simply purchase the land was rejected before a bid could be submitted.”

When Blaney refers to promising initial discussions, he’s mainly referring to when E.T. Mitchell, a wealthy appointee to the Board of Aldermen who is now running for county commissioner, was on the board and heard the proposal. (Mitchell was also instrumental in developing and executing plans for Craven Terrace and was a Housing Authority commission member for a time.)

When Blaney refers to more recent frustrating discussions, he’s referring to Ward 2 Alderman Jameesha Harris, who has reservations about the plan and who called it “gentrification” in a Facebook post on Thursday.

Her ward includes the Pembroke community as well as the Carolina Avenue property the Housing Authority is interested in.

The plan has a lot of moving parts but boils down to this: The Housing Authority wants the Carolina Avenue property so it can secure funding to build affordable housing there. It would then move residents of Trent Court and others living on Housing Authority land in that area to the new housing off Carolina Avenue. That would enable the Housing Authority to raze many if not all of Trent Court’s buildings and replace them with a mixed-income residential development that it would still manage, either directly or indirectly.

It would involve moving low-income residents from Trent Court, ostensibly on a temporary basis, and moving them to housing to be constructed on Carolina Avenue adjacent to the Pembroke community. Once a new and improved Trent Court emerges, former residents would be given the opportunity to move back if housing is available.

The proposal made to Ms. Harris was that the city donate the property to NBHA, freeing up our proposed $200,000 bid to rehabilitate the Taylor Building in Trent Court as a permanent home for the Boys & Girls Club,” Commissioner Frederick told the Post.

As it appears now, what would be built where Trent Court exists now would be a mix of high-, middle- and low-end housing and subsidized housing. The Housing Authority plans to leave a waterfront green space between Walt Bellamy Drive and Lawson Creek, and according to a source, that waterfront property is what the Housing Authority is willing to trade to the city for the Carolina Avenue acreage.

Trent Court and Carolina Avenue Compared

Trent Court area Carolina Avenue
Acres 14.07 built-out 30.81 undeveloped but mostly wetland
Tax value $663,990 $140,150
Tax value per acre $47,191 $4,548

 

One problem with Trent Court is that the next time it floods in that area, affected buildings will have to be vacated and razed. No more money will be spent to bring them back to habitability. That puts a gun to the Housing Authority’s head to find substitute housing quickly.

“This is a complicated matter practically and politically,” Blaney said in his his memo. “Strategies such as improving Trent Court, seeking other land, approaching aldermen, public relations, etc., need to be devised.”

He said in his memo that he has spoken with three Pembroke residents about the proposal. “Two of the three indicated that my explanation was not exactly as an earlier one given by their alderman. They still expressed misgivings, however.

“I expect to be invited to the next Pembroke Residents’ Association meeting in early April. My belief is that if we disagree, at least let us disagree based on honest fact.”

Blaney has scheduled an interview with the Post on Tuesday morning to provide further information about this issue.

Facing opposition from Alderman Harris, proponents of the plan have attempted to sweeten the pot in an effort to gain her support, including promises for a new Boys & Girls Club location and public works improvements in her ward, she told the Post.

Harris, who represents the Pembroke Community as part of her ward, released Blaney’s memo on her alderman Facebook page on Thursday evening and explained her involvement in the plan.

“I was invited to a meeting to talk about the city possibly donating a very big plot of land that is located in my ward in Pembroke,” Harris said on her alderman Facebook page. “They also wanted us to pay the cost of demolition of some Trent Court Buildings and they would in return give the city some waterfront wetlands.

“It was stated that they wanted to relocate Trent Court Residents to the property they would build in Pembroke area but also give them a right to come back to the Trent Court area after they rebuild new homes and condos.”

Harris said she didn’t agree with the plan and said it sounded like a case of gentrification (although she also said she would support the deal if the Housing Authority paid full price for the Carolina Avenue property).

“Then I was asked to a second meeting but this time they added the Boys & Girls Club into to the mix,” Harris said. “Basically what I got out of the meeting is, we would help the Boys & Girls Club if the city once again provides the big plot of land in Pembroke. At this meeting, I personally made it clear that I am not in favor of any deal.

“I have never given misleading information,” she wrote, referring to Blaney’s memo describing his version of the plan as different from hers. “I never stated that the city wants control over the property and I simply stated that I would only vote yes if full price was offered for the land.

“I am doing the job that I was voted into office to do. I refuse to be a ‘Yes Man’! If I don’t like the idea and I ask my constituents about the idea and they don’t like it as well, then leave it alone.”

Commissioner Frederick said he was not aware of any request for the city to pay for any demolition in Trent Court, or any promises to pay for public works projects in her ward. 

 

Posted in Aldermen, Board of Aldermen, Community, Economy and Employment, Housing, Mayor, New Bern

March 15th, 2018 by newbernpostadmin

Fresh from her first National League of Cities conference in Washington D.C., Alderman Jameesha Harris returned  to New Bern on Tuesday eager to spread the conference’s theme, “Rebuild with Us.”

During her return trip from D.C., her head filled with all sorts of dynamic, innovative things that she was eager to see happen here, Harris excitedly texted her fellow aldermen and city staff to look into a program called Opportunity Zones.

And then she got shut down.

(Anyone who has ever attended a professional conference, only to have everything you’ve learned dismissed by the gatekeepers in the home office, raise your hand.)

According to Goman+York, a real estate and economic development firm based in East Hartford, Connecticut, “The Opportunity Zones provision aims to attract longer-term investment to certain eligible areas, focusing on Opportunity Zones — those areas that struggle most with issues such as high poverty rates and sluggish economic growth in the job sector. BisNow noted recently that the bill is structured to be particularly generous towards real estate developers, especially those willing to invest in an area for longer than 10 years.” Full story here

Time is short if the city wants to take advantage of Opportunity Zones benefits, Harris said. Applicant cities have until March 31 to apply or ask for extension from their state governors’ offices.

City Development Services Director Jeff Ruggieri said he looked into it over a couple of days. The program left him underwhelmed, and in essence he shut down Harris’ push to have the program applied in New Bern.

He said similar ideas have been around since 1980s under different names — Enterprise Zone, Freedom Zone, Promise Zone. Those programs had a lot of criteria attached, he said, mainly to create jobs, affordable housing, or both.

He said reviews have been mixed on the Opportunity Zones and that this program has no criteria that he can find. It’s a fund set up based on deferred taxes for people who have capital gains, he said.

“It’s kind an odd program at this point in time. The way I see it, there is nothing that says you need to create jobs. All these other ones say, here, you can go through this program, but you need to do something. You need to create low income housing, you need to create so many jobs. Can’t find any criteria with this program at all.

“It seems kind of counter intuitively as it is applied. Since there’s really no stated goal, … there’s no goal of creating a low income housing or anything like that. The goal really is just to create money. Which can work, we can create projects that would work for something like this, but I don’t think we’re there yet. We really need a specific project and a very specific plan. Need a lot more infrastructure in place, human capital. A lot more capacity to really make this work.

“It’s another incentive, another tool. We have a lot of tools in the tool box incentive wise, especially to apply in our Greater Duffyfield Area.

“But there’s 20 years of data out there that really address incentives and whether they work or if they don’t. Overwhelmingly they really don’t work, they don’t make much of a difference. There’s a couple of projects here and there that work, but over all they really don’t do much.”

Ruggieri said the best way to incentivize development and jobs in a community “is to do some really simple things. Create a safe place for people to live and children to play. Have great schools. Create inclusive transportation system. Sidewalks, safe public transportation. Create a great place to look at. Those things are really what works, and plenty of empirical evidence to support that.

“This (Opportunity Zones) could be another tool, I just don’t see us using it yet,” he said.

There are plenty of examples of “really simple things” that the city is rolling out around the city — just not in the Five Points area, Duffyfield or Dryborough. The only programs the city is actively pursuing in those areas is the demolition of dilapidated buildings and the foreclosing of distressed properties the city in turn has been selling at a loss of thousands of dollars per property.

In short, the city’s efforts in those parts of town are failing. A program like Opportunity Zones, which seek private investment, may succeed where the city has failed. Only problem is that, because it lacks criteria, it would be hard for City Hall to control Opportunity Zones investments.

Harris was a first-time attendee at the National League of Cities conference, learning information and interacting with peers from across the nation. She mentioned another program on Tuesday, Race Equity Leadership Initiative. She said it provides grant money for a consultant to come out and assess whether the community is diverse.

That’s a program that really does seem to serve no purpose. The answer is obvious: New Bern has an ethnically diverse population but an ethnically segregated social structure.

Check out the local country clubs and golf courses and count the number of non-white faces you see there (other than the employees). Stroll through downtown and count the number of non-white faces you encounter. Ask the Chamber of Commerce what percentage of its members are non-white. Go to church on Sundays and look at the congregations. Drive through Trent Woods and River Bend, then Duffyfield, Dryborough and James City. How many African American students attend Epiphany School or many other church-based schools in this community? How many of New Bern’s public elementary schools are ethnically diverse?

Diversity actually does exist somewhat in New Bern’s major retail stores (most notably Wal-Mart) and restaurants (RIP Golden Corral). Many workplaces in New Bern are diverse (again, Wal-Mart).

But overall, New Bern has a long way to go. Opportunity Zones may not fit the mold that City Hall is creating for its vision of New Bern, but maybe that’s exactly what it needs if it is going to fix Duffyfield, Dryborough and Greater Five Points.

Posted in Aldermen, Board of Aldermen, Economy and Employment, New Bern business and commerce

March 6th, 2018 by newbernpostadmin

The late Steve Jobs is often touted as one of the great innovators of the age, but his real genius was in taking ideas from others, tweaking them, and selling them.

Jobs didn’t invent the computer mouse, smart phone or the MP3 player, for example; others came up with those ideas, but his tweaks changed everything.

Taking cues from Steve Jobs, the City of New Bern has gone into he business of taking others ideas, as well.

For example, take the Farmer’s Market.

For $1 per year, the Farmers Market was leasing city-owned land at South Front and Hancock streets coveted by developers. Everyone was happy, the Farmers Market thrived, and neighboring businesses enjoyed the extra foot traffic Farmer’s Market attracted.

Meanwhile, the city was saddled with a blighted piece of property off First Street zoned for heavy commercial use that it will never be able to sell because of decades of accumulated pollutants from the power plant that once stood there.

On a tear to unload surplus property, here was one property the city could not unload, so it sought alternatives.

City officials thought they could kill two birds with one stone. They approached Farmers Market leaders about moving to the First Street power plant property, a concept called City Market. Moving Farmer’s Market would free up city-owned land it could sell, and put to use city-owned property the city could not sell.

Farmers Market board members didn’t like the idea. They are doing well where they are and the rent they paid to the city for the property was almost nothing. Also, the present location brings in casual visitors who are downtown for other reasons.

Downtown businesses didn’t like the idea, either. They see Farmers Market as an additional attraction that fills restaurants and shops with customers on mornings when the Farmers Market is open.

At the moment, almost nobody goes to the old power plant, and other than Lawson Creek Park across the road, there is nothing else for people to do in that section of town.

It started to get ugly, as things often do when one opposes City Hall. There were veiled threats of eviction countered by a petition that gathered 15,400 signatures from people opposed to the Farmer’s Market moving.

At some point city officials realized that the Farmer’s Market had an ace up its sleeve: Although its lease with the city was about to expire, it had the option to extend it for one more year. That would have put the city in the awkward position of evicting a beloved downtown institution right in time for the 2017 municipal elections.

The city backed off. Rather than let a squabble with Farmers Market and downtown merchants drive the 2017 municipal elections, the city was forced into another lease. This time, however, it increased the rent from $1 a year to $500 per month.

The idea seemed to wither away. There was no further public discussion about outdoor vendor sales at the old power plant property. But meanwhile, city officials worked out a deal for Craven Community College to use the First Street main building for vocational classes, calling it the Volt Center (a nod to the building’s past as an electric plant).

Then on Feb. 13, the City Market plan sprang forth once more. The city is now seeking grant funding to help pay for outdoor vending areas, a market, a commercial kitchen accelerator, and an inventor’s space.

As city director of Development Services Jeff Ruggieri said, the idea never went away. But now, rather than forcing the Farmer’s Market to move, the city now looks poised to go in head-to-head competition with the Farmer’s Market.

It’s an odd thing, the city trying to compete with an existing commercial operation. Alderman Jeffrey Odham has said he wanted to run the city more like a business, but this? Start a business? One that competes with existing businesses?

And it’s not the only one.

In January, a private artists group approached the city seeking approval to rent the old Firemen’s Museum on Hancock Street.

A little background on that: after he became mayor, Dana Outlaw began a push to unload as much surplus city property as possible. The Hancock Street museum property was on the list, and the city gave the bum’s rush to the Firemen’s Museum, forcing it to rush fundraising efforts to pay for renovations of the old Broad Street Fire House so the museum could move there.

Outlaw and city staff envisioned selling the old museum site on Hancock Street, but when bids came in, they didn’t meet minimum requirements. The building is a fairly large commercial space suitable for a restaurant or even a microbrewery, but there’s a problem: it has no parking.

True, there’s a city-owned parking lot right next to it, but the downtown parking plan calls for the city to reduce the number of leased spaces, not increase the number. And the city parking lot at New and Hancock streets is a pretty important component to the city’s master parking plan.

So, like the old power plant on First Street, the city found itself with a substantial piece of real estate that is virtually unsellable.

It makes one wonder whether city officials do any research into these things before jumping in.

Back to the artists’ group. It had lost its existing location and was basically homeless and in a bind. They thought that perhaps they could rent the Hancock Street property from the city for, say, $500 a month — the same thing Farmer’s Market was paying for its piece of prime real estate.

Good idea, Mayor Outlaw said. More research is needed. Could be the city would pay them, rather than the other way around.

But that’s not how it turned out.

Meetings were held and the city came back with a plan: The city Parks and Recreation Department would open up its own art gallery and artist space at the old Firemen’s Museum — and make money doing it.

That private artists group? Still homeless, although they are welcome to apply to use the city-owned, city-run artists gallery along with everyone else.

So, yeah, those are two examples of the city shouldering its way into areas previously the domain of private groups.

A little bit sneaky, a little big underhanded. But unlike Steve Jobs, who bought or stole proven, successful ideas and made them better, the city still has to prove whether it is any good at running an outdoor market and an artists gallery, both of which have existing and entrenched competition in the city.

But, paraphrasing a line from Steve Jobs when he would announce new products, in the sneaky, underhanded department, that’s not all.

More on that here.

Posted in Aldermen, Board of Aldermen, Community, Craven Community College, Economy and Employment, Mayor, New Bern business and commerce, Parks and Recreation, Planning and Zoning

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