Aldermen voted 4-2, with one absent, to create a Redevelopment Commission, with the goal to revitalize the Greater Duffyfield area.
A redevelopment commission in 1960s kickstarted revitalization of downtown New Bern, Mayor Dana Outlaw said. A Metropolitan Services District (MSD) followed and downtown businesses taxed themselves to fund improvements.
The effort, which continues to this day, is widely regarded as one of the most successful downtown redevelopment efforts in the nation.
No one spoke at a public hearing into establishing a Redevelopment Commission during Tuesday’s Board of Aldermen meeting, but two aldermen, Johnnie Ray Kinsey and Barbara Best, expressed reservations.
Kinsey said he wanted to hear more from the Duffyfield Phoenix Group, a private group that seeks to do many of the same things that a Redevelopment Commission would do.
“I look at the economic engine that is downtown versus the economic engine that they are trying to develop, I don’t know where it is going to go,” Kinsey said.
Sabrina Bengel said she had a meeting with the group, but that it was cancelled. She and Alderman Bobby Aster both expressed dismay that the group was not at Tuesday’s public hearing, since the two efforts share common goals.
Once the commission is created, the Phoenix Group as well as any other individual or group can participate in the process, Bengel pointed out, urging that the board move forward with creating the commission.
“Our city is only good as every single neighborhood, and this neighborhood needs a lot of attention,” she said.
This redevelopment commission is going to be much more than housing, she added.
Kinsey said he wants to listen to the Phoenix Group and see what they have in mind.
“Before you build a house on land, you have to see, does it perk. We have to see if this perks,” he said. “Just give them a chance.”
“I think there will be plenty of opportunities for them to speak,” Aster replied.
Alderman Best said the group approached her and asked that they be placed on the May 22 Board of Aldermen agenda. “The group would like to talk about the mission and that the Phoenix Group is willing to work with the city of New Bern. They were just not ready to present themselves to the board tonight,” she said.
Best said she has some reservations about the redevelopment commission. She said the Phoenix Group has come together and started laid groundwork, putting information out to the residents of the Duffyfield neighborhood and even holding some public meetings.
Alderwoman Jameesha Harris said some of her concerns about a Redevelopment Commission have subsided, and said the Board of Aldermen is not hindering the group.
“All we’re going to do is set up the structure,” she said.
The board voted 4-2 to establish a Redevelopment Commission, with Bengel, Aster, Harris and Mayor Outlaw voting in the majority. Kinsey and Best voted against it. Alderman Jeffrey Odham was absent.