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Great Places recognized at Legislative Building 

by Jessica Wells, League Communications Specialist

Legislators and municipal officials gathered at the Legislative Building in Raleigh during Town Hall Day to recognize the winners of the 2015 Great Places awards sponsored by the North Carolina chapter of the American Planning Association.

Since its creation in 2012, the program has become a sought after recognition of North Carolina’s great places and the people who created them. The program was recently awarded the Karen B. Smith award for chapter achievement from the national American Planning Association.

Awards are given in two divisions: People’s Choice and the Professionals’ Category. The People’s Choice awards are chosen by popular vote in an online contest, and the Professionals’ Category is decided by a panel of experts including planners, professors and other executives.

In the two People’s Choice Categories, almost 40,000 North Carolinians voted online for their  favorite Greenway and Historic Rehabilitations.

Roanoke Rapids’ Roanoke Canal Trail was selected as a Great Greenway. The trail is a remnant of historic navigation designed to connect the Blue Ridge Mountains and Norfolk. The trail follows the original towpath for 7.2 miles providing pedestrian and cyclist access between Roanoke Rapids and Weldon. Informational displays along the way illustrate the history of transportation on the Roanoke River from the early 1800s forward.

Historic structures and architectural features are preserved to portray the engineering feats. The Canal Trail hosts the annual Roanoke Canal Half-Marathon drawing hundreds of visitors to the Roanoke Valley area.

“It’s a beautiful facility used by thousands every year, and we want to thank the Association for allowing us to publicize that,” Roanoke Rapids City Manager Joseph Scherer said.

Kinston’s 200 N. Queen Street was awarded the Great Historic Rehabilitation award. The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and was the former Farmer and Merchants Bank of Kinston before remaining vacant for years. The redevelopment was done in concert with state  reservationists in the Greenville office.

North Carolina Representative George Graham, whose district includes Kinston and New Bern, said, “We’re so pleased that Kinston, New Bern, and our whole region is becoming more accommodating. We’re on our way back to investing, rehabilitating and creating what will be remembered as a beautiful place to visit and spend your money.”

The Professional’s Category winners are Asheboro, Belmont, New Bern and West Jefferson.

Asheboro’s Sunset Avenue was once home to manufacturing facilities that upheld the area’s economy, but the downsizing of the textile industry left many downtown stores vacant. City and community leaders committed to reviving this centerpiece of downtown and have breathed new life into Asheboro through a growing list of annual downtown events, an inviting urban park, improved sidewalks, a beautifully restored and publicly owned theatre, refreshed streetscapes and an array of public art.

“Back in 1995 we started a vision for addressing the issues all of us have with the advent of malls and all of our merchants leaving downtown,” Asheboro Mayor David Smith said. “We have no empty buildings  downtown now. The gratifying thing about this award is that now we know somebody outside of  Randolph County appreciated the efforts we have going on.”

Belmont’s Main Street has been featured in movies and highlighted in articles for the Main Street ideals of American pop culture. Historical and regionally iconic places of business, such as a former general  store and department store, are venues that have been reformatted and are active parts of the Main Street experience. Residents fill the historic houses located on and around Main Street, supported by various institutions, civic uses, and recreational opportunities in the downtown district.

Belmont attracts thousands of people annually for a variety of reasons including Main Street events such as Red, White and Belmont, featuring a watermelon eating contest and fireworks display; fine dining and local shopping; or just to relax in lawn chairs and wave at the train’s engineer as it passes by.

“The success of Belmont’s Main Street has occurred over time with a lot of leadership and people who took chances to get these things done. Our current leaders recognize the importance that Main Street plays,” Belmont Mayor Charlie Martin said. “But the most important thing I can tell you about Belmont is the friendliness of the people. All of the sticks and stones are nice, but the group of people that we have is what makes it special.”

New Bern’s Middle Street was the epicenter of downtown revitalization in the 1980s and today remains the most vibrant street in downtown New Bern. From a scenic waterfront to historic architecture, Middle Street encapsulates everything that makes New Bern special. The town’s rich history — including colonial, Civil War, and early 20th century — is embodied in the street’s beautifully restored homes, five churches, the early 20th century Blades Mansion, and vibrant commercial district. Access to the Trent River is just steps away. The street is a cornerstone for the city as it works to reinvigorate its economy by capitalizing on its two greatest assets: its history and waterfront.

“Our new logo is, ‘Everything comes together here,’ and everything does come together there – the past, present and future, small town hospitality and conveniences of a larger city,” said Kevin Robinson, New Bern city planner.

West Jefferson’s Jefferson Avenue was made a great place because of the work ethic and community spirit that went into the town. Planning played a key role in laying out the town’s vision of a safe and attractive downtown.

These well laid plans became a reality as the town worked with NC Department of Transportation and other stakeholders to slow traffic and improve pedestrian access in town by improving the street  network, added public art and space all in an effort to revitalize the town. People come to West Jefferson year-round to enjoy the Christmas decorations, fall colors or any of the many events and now it’s easier than ever to enjoy downtown’s hospitality.

“Anyone who has not been to West Jefferson to visualize the changes needs to visit,” West Jefferson Town Manager Brantley Price said. “Downtown is alive! You will love the pedestrian friendly walkability of our downtown.”

Goldsboro was also recognized in the Professional’s Category as a Great Main Street in the Making. In 2006, Goldsboro invested in a downtown master plan and hired a consultant to create a revitalization plan. The resulting recommendation was a complete transformation of Center Street to address  functional, aesthetic, safety, scale and aging infrastructure issues. In 2011, the city embarked on one block of Center Street at a cost of $2.4 million. Due to this demonstration of commitment, and its Complete Street design concept, the U.S. Department of Transportation awarded Goldsboro a 2013 $10 million TIGER grant to build three more blocks. Construction began in August 2014 and will result in three round-a-bouts, public art installations, a 12-foot granite water fountain, bike lanes, extra-wide sidewalks, mid-block cross walks, underground utilities, Wi-Fi, game stations, shade trees and more green space and pedestrian space. Since the first block’s completion, 28 businesses have opened and eight properties have been sold to eager new investors.

Several legislators were present including Sen. Tamara Barringer, Rep. Michael Wray, Rep. Pat Hurley Rep. John Torbett, Rep. Dana Bumgardner, Sen. Kathy Harrington, Rep. Allen McNeill, Rep. George Graham, and Rep. Sarah Stevens.

North Carolina Secretary of Cultural Resources Susan Kluttz is a former mayor of Salisbury and  commented on the importance of recognizing great main streets and their effect on economic development.

“I’m very grateful to the planners and the League of Municipalities for joining us in understanding that the historic preservation tax credits have got to come back,” she said. “The Governor joins me in recognizing that we have to maintain our downtowns. They are the heart of our communities, and what is done for our cities and towns in North Carolina, is done for the state of North Carolina.”