Fresh from her first National League of Cities conference in Washington D.C., Alderman Jameesha Harris returnedto 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.
Before and after photos show impacts on Trent Road from the New Bern Marketplace shopping center construction. The photo on the left was taken several years ago. The photo on the right was taken on Wednesday.
City officials are revising design standards for the Trent Road Corridor “to accurately reflect the development pattern” that has emerged on that stretch of city street.
Changes were approved by the Planning and Zoning Board at its meeting on Tuesday and will come before the Board of Aldermen for final approval.
Removing a requirement that buildings maintain a front yard setback of 35-50 feet from the street right-of-way.
Removing a requirement that at least 60 percent of the front yard area of any development will consist of vegetation.
Removing a requirement that parking be on the side or behind buildings rather than between Trent Road and the main building.
The section of Trent Road the city is looking to revise development guidelines amid a surge in growth. City of New Bern map
The affected corridor stretches from Ninth Street to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
Trent Road was once the main road serving New Bern, Jones County and Jacksonville, but a new road, once called Clarendon Boulevard but now called Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, shifted development away from Trent Road.
Trent Road became a commercial backwater over the years, but more recently, with the development of New Bern Marketplace and other smaller commercial and office facilities, Trent Road is becoming a popular location for developers.
Of course, the largest by far is New Bern Marketplace, a 34-acre, 325,000-square-foot shopping center located between Dr. M.L. King Jr. Boulevard, Trent Road and South Glenburnie Road.
New Bern Marketplace will be anchored by Harris Teeter’s first 100,000-square-foot grocery store, which will include a gas station and a pharmacy with a drive-though. Other retailers opening there include Academy Sports, Ross, ULTA, Five Below, Lee Nails Spa, Hobby Lobby, and Rack Room.
A worker installs lettering at the Ross Dress for Less store at New Bern Marketplace on Wednesday. Randy Foster/New Bern Post
Michael Stephens, a Riverside Neighborhood resident, plans to open an outdoor recreation facility on Beech Street off Oaks Road following approval by the city to rezone the property from residential and light industrial to commercial.
Location of a proposed privately owned and operated outdoor recreation facility off Oaks Road. Google Maps image
Stephens has combined two lots, 107 and 109 Beech St., which have access to Jack Smith Creek near its mouth with the Neuse River. The resulting 1.14 acres would be used for a venture he is calling Oaks Watersport Landing: The Owl.
“The property will be used for recreational outdoor activities and small indoor and outdoor events,” Stephens said in a written report to the city. “It will allow opportunities for civic organizations to hold small events. A perfect opportunity to allow residents and homeowners in the area to be part of various organizations and functions while helping build a strong sense of civic pride.”
He said most activities will be done during daylight hours.
Initial hours of operation would be 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., five to seven days per week, weather permitting. It may close one to two months out of the year due to seasonally declining activities.
He estimates the venue will have about 10-15 guests per day with a total capacity of 120 people.
A building described as a “lodge” is part of the plan.
Two vacant buildings, a business and a house, are located on the two properties. Google Maps image
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.
Winnie Smith and Lindsay Sims, daughters of the late Greg Smith, have taken over the running of Mitchell Hardware. Greg Smith died suddenly on the morning of Jan. 29 while working at his store. A story by the ever-excellent Bill Hand at the Sun Journal here.
Shoe Carnival, a discount shoe store at Rivertowne Square (you know, the one with Books A Million on one end and Wal-Mart Supercenter on the other), is closing. A source with the company said the New Bern store was under-performing, and faced with the prospect of competition from Rack Room and Academy Sports at the New Bern Marketplace shopping center, the company threw in the towel on its New Bern location. Shoe Carnival fans can still find stores in Greenville and Jacksonville.
Rivertowne Square is in the process of facade renovation work on its east end.
3rd Rock Brewing’s plans for a tap room off Pollock Street have been put on hold while the owner looks for a different, perhaps larger location. Negotiations continue.
Out (for now): Hotel and parking structure at Craven and Pollock
Policy wonks from the UNC School of Government are urging the City of New Bern to turn its attention from a possible parking structure and hotel across from City Hall, and return its attention to a vacant lot at the corner of Craven and South Front streets.
UNC SoG special projects managers Marcia Perritt and Omar Kashef appeared before the Board of Aldermen on Tuesday to advise on behalf of the pivot.
The Pollock and Craven parking structure/hotel SoG had been advocating has been put on hold while Craven County officials decide whether they want to participate. Participation for the county is no small matter. It includes moving the county tax office, donating the property on which the tax office resides to the project, and pooling its tax revenues from the ensuing project until the city pays off the seven-figure costs to build the parking deck.
Editor note: My notes are incomplete, and the PDF the city originally posted online for the project is offline at the moment. Link
The vacant lot at the corner of Craven and South Front streets was acquired by the city as two separate purchases totaling $209,000 in 2000 and 2001. Tax value of the property is now listed at $567,630.
In the mid-2000s, Talbots looked at the property to build a department store, but opposition to the plan put a stop to that. Since then, the lot has been home to grass and one stately tree, with occasional events being held there.
SoG envisions a hotel being built on the property, assuming that some agreement could be made with the city to lease nearby public parking spaces for hotel guests.
SoG apparently is unaware that nearby municipal parking lots are part of a proposed parking master plan tied in with enforced two-hour parking streetside and a push to get visitors and downtown workers to use the municipal parking lots.
Kashef said the goal of SoG’s efforts is to keep people downtown after 5 p.m. by finding projects that serve the public interest and that are financially feasible.
Other areas needing attention, he said, are undeveloped and under-developed parcels and buildings, insufficient parking, and development of second-story uses such as residential and office space. The
Alderman Sabrina Bengel pointed out that downtown’s second-floor spaces are being developed “one right after another. I don’t see that holding us back as much as development of empty lots, vacant buildings and underutilized buildings.”
Bengel also urged SoG to make sure there is public participation in the process.
Alderman Johnnie Ray Kinsey reminded that the Five Points area continues to lack any attention from the city in terms of economic development.
“It would be good to see the city grow together,” he said.
Faced with a 20-day suspension of his ABC licenses, James Monette, owner of Monette’s Grocery on Old Cherry Point Road, has agreed to pay a $2,000 penalty to keep that suspension from happening.
Monette, brother of Craven County Sheriff Jerry Monette, knowingly possessed gambling equipment at his convenience store around Aug. 31, 2017, according to state ABC officials.
The gambling equipment was described in comments by a member of the Monette family as a “quarter pusher” that has been in the store for a long time.
Monette’s Grocery, at 4001 Old Cherry Point Road at the corner of East Thurman Road, holds licenses issued in 2003 to sell malt beverages on site, and fortified and unfortified wine off site. Monette has operated a convenience store at that location since it was built in 1972, according to Craven County tax records.
The state ABC Commission accepted Monette’s offer to pay the penalty in lieu of the suspension during its meeting on Tuesday.
The suspension would have started March 16 and lasted 20 days. ABC license holders who face suspensions commonly pay fines for any transgressions, since the fines are often less expensive than the lost revenue from suspended beer and wine licenses.
Editor’s note: Stephanie K. McIntyre, who gave an invalid email address, emailed this feedback: The story about Monette Grocery is in accurate. First of all the brother that owns that store is not the Sheriff’s twin brother Gary. I’m willing to bet you got your information from either Matt Knight or Chip Hughes. Monette’s Grocery have not paid the fine, they have received a letter. So, yes this is fake news. Because so far the primary facts are inaccurate.
My response: I have corrected the story to indicate that he is the brother, not the twin brother. The state ABC Commission approved Monette’s offer to pay the fine in lieu of suspension, which is accurately reported in the story. Regarding what led me to the information, it was a colleague at another newspaper in North Carolina pointing out to me that the ABC Commission was considering whether to approve the Bridgeton ABC store. While looking through the agenda, I spotted the agenda item about Monette’s. McIntyre’s definition of “fake” is far broader than mine. I suggest that her assertions and allegations are fake, whereas my article contained a small error that I have corrected. / Randy Foster/New Bern Post
The ABC store in James City is slated for closure just before its lease expires in June 2019, and a new store will be built in Bridgeton to open in May 2019.
The plan received approval from the state ABC Commission on Tuesday.
Google Maps satellite view of the planned ABC store in Bridgeton.
The Craven County ABC Board requested approval from the state ABC Commission to relocate its James City store to a new location in Bridgeton just off U.S. 17 at C and Pine streets.
In his report to the state commission, Craven ABC General Manager Paul Brown said the James City store’s lease expires in June 2019 and will close upon opening of the new store in Bridgeton.
Brown said the James City store would be affected by future construction on U.S. 70.
Brown said the Bridgeton store would be on a busy highway and tap into an additional market (east of the Neuse River) in that area.
Brown estimates sales at the Bridgeton store to be $2.4 million the first year of operation, compared to $2.1 million at the James City store last year.
That construction would turn that stretch of U.S. 70 from a surface street into a controlled access expressway, or freeway.
Craven County has five ABC stores. The Bridgeton store would be built from scratch.
Craven ABC entered into a purchase agreement for the 0.6-acre lot for a price of $269,900.
The closest ABC store to the Bridgeton store would be on South Front Street in downtown New Bern. Another ABC store is located near Harris Teeter on South Glenburnie Road.
Floorplan of the planned ABC store in Bridgeton.
The Bridgeton store would be 4,800 square feet for retail space and 1,000 square feet for office and warehouse. Cost of construction is estimated at $1.25 million, funded through a bank loan with First Citizens Bank.
Like everyone else who knew Greg Smith, his death Monday morning filled me with a terrible sorrow.
Like everyone else who knew Greg, I felt as though I lost my best friend.
Greg was a joyous soul, one of the kindest people I ever met. As I write this, my mind sees his infectious smile, hears his gravelly voice, rejoices in his gentle nature, and is amazed by his super human enthusiasm.
Shortly after launching New Bern Post back in October, I began work on what was to be a series of feature articles about things that make New Bern special. Greg Smith and Mitchell Hardware, one and the same, were first on my list.
I started laying the groundwork. I visited Mitchell Hardware more often, surreptitiously gathering information for the article I was going to write while buying things I didn’t really need.
Did you know Mitchell Hardware stocks more than 80,000 items? That’s what a store employee told me, confirmed by Greg himself. I have half a notebook full of little tidbits like that.
I was going to surprise him with it. I would take my collection of tidbits, photos and videos about him and his store and put it on my website, then I would show him. He would be flattered and a little embarrassed. He did not deserve such attention, he would have said.
That I did not finish it is tragic. That Greg is no longer with us is our tragedy.
But Greg’s death, though untimely and unwanted, was not tragic. It is lives that end unfulfilled that are tragic. Greg’s life is the embodiment of a life lived well and a life fulfilled. Greg’s life was a storybook of friendships and accomplishments and a wonderful store filled with treasures useful and useless totaling more than 80,000 items.
I knew Greg just over eight years. His house is around the corner and down the block from mine and I walk past it nearly every day. Often I saw him in his yard and waved. Sometimes I’d stop and we would have a chat while I petted his dog.
It struck me a bit odd that someone who runs a wonderful place like Mitchell Hardware would live so simply … a gray-painted bungalow with a simple yard. Of course I know the reason; we all do.
Greg Smith spent his life dedicated to his store and a city full of best friends.
Mitchell Hardware was closed today following the death of its owner, Greg Mitchell.
Updated at 4:48 p.m.
Greg Smith, owner of Mitchell Hardware on Craven Street, died on Monday morning at work sometime between 7 a.m. and store opening at 8 a.m.
A store worker found him unresponsive and called an ambulance, according to a source close to Mr. Smith.
Cause of death was not immediately known. Some news media list the cause as a massive heart attack, although that has not been confirmed.
The following statement was released by the staff of Mitchell Hardware this morning.
“It is with deep sadness that we share the loss of a father, grandfather, and dear friend. This morning, Greg Smith, owner of Mitchell Hardware located at 215 Craven Street, passed away. He was 62 years-old. All of us – his family, friends, and the Mitchell Hardware family – will miss him terribly.
“Greg was an ambassador for New Bern. He was always willing to share a story about our beloved town. He never met a stranger, gave the best bear hugs, loved to laugh, and was always smiling. Mitchell Hardware was his heart and soul. He was here before the sun came up and, often times, until long after sunset. He never took a day off, and looked after the employees as if we were his own. Our biggest cheerleader inside and outside of the store, Greg was supportive of so many New Bern endeavors… charitable fundraisers, city projects, Mumfest, the arts community, local theatre, the military, Swiss Bear and the Chamber of Commerce.
“We are working to make funeral arrangements and will keep everyone informed of our plans. We appreciate your support and patience while family, friends, and the New Bern community grieve the loss of such a wonderful human being. Mitchell Hardware will remain closed today, Monday.”
More details will be added as they become available.