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Storied past leads to bright future 

by Jessica Wells, League Communications Specialist

From menhaden fishing to the Queen Anne’s Revenge, Beaufort is the place
to be for a history buff like Mayor Richard Stanley.

Born and raised in Beaufort, Stanley remembers growing up in the 50s when
industrial boats filled the inlet harvesting the oily fish used to make perfumes, soaps, paint and more. Menhaden fishing put Beaufort on the map and supported the local economy for decades.

But when the fish left, so did the downtown grocery stores, banks and shops. It was about then that Stanley left as well to study history and political science at Wake Forest University.

“When I left for college, there was nobody downtown,” he said. “The town elders at the time said, we’ve got to do something. We’ve got a lot of old homes that would possibly attract people if they’re fixed up.”

They started designating historic homes with plaques and writing their histories – some dating as far back as the 1600s, including a house Blackbeard was said to have lived in. The town also purchased all of the buildings on the water side of Front Street, tore them down and installed docks and a marina.

Now visitors flock to Beaufort to see the historic homes and stroll along the Taylor’s Creek waterfront.

Stanley points to the recently repealed state Historic Preservation Tax Credits as a great boost to that economic activity.

“Economic development is caused by historic preservation because it takes houses that are falling down and puts tax value back in. The houses have become inns or commercial properties,” Stanley said. “It’s mind boggling to me why we’ve let the tax credits go. From a viewpoint of economic development and property
taxes, it made the most sense to me.”

Stanley, who also lives downtown in a remodeled 1901 home, came back to Beaufort in 1976 after graduating from Wake Forest Law School, serving in
the Army and working for the District Attorney’s office in Wilmington. He chose to pursue municipal law after seeing the benefits of good government and has been involved with the League and the North Carolina Association of Municipal Attorneys since he started his career. Since then, he’s represented several local governments including Emerald Isle, Atlantic Beach and Carteret County.

“I saw that government does a lot of good. In municipal law, you’ve got the opportunity from the get-go to set some policy and do some good things that can improve the quality of life for the citizens who live there,” he said. “If you provide good infrastructure and zoning, private enterprise will take over. Government has to provide the tools or the opportunity for private enterprise.”

Since becoming mayor in 2007, Stanley has been focused on providing more tools for private enterprise. One of his favorite projects has been purchasing the old United States Post Office as an incentive to bring the National Parks Service ferry operations headquarters to Beaufort. The Town Hall and National Parks Service now share the building, and the ferry operations bring roughly 40 private sector jobs and an additional 30,000 to 40,000 visitors through Beaufort each year.

Beaufort is also in the process of building a new bridge that will replace the one built in the 1950s on Highway 70 over Gallants Channel. The new bridge will be a high-rise, and Stanley believes it will make access easier, beautify entrances and increase economic impact.

“I think it will open up this part of the coast to people in the Triangle,” he said. “Wilmington opened up because of Interstate 40, and I think the same thing will happen here.”

Stanley is also working on legislative advocacy efforts for the area that threaten municipal revenue and control like Senate Bill 369 (also known as Sales Tax Fairness Act), which is projected to cost Beaufort more than $220,000 in fiscal year 2018-19. Some municipalities gain revenue and some lose revenue under the terms of the bill, which converts the locally levied sales tax to a state sales tax and distributes it on a per capita basis around the state.

“What irritates me is that we’ve spent a lot of money getting roads into here, water and sewer, building shopping centers, providing infrastructure to get tourists to come here and spend money – all at the urging of the State and Department of Commerce. We’ve got thousands that visit Beaufort every year,” Stanley explained. “Now for them to say, ‘well, the point of impact where they’re spending the money, you’re not going to get it any more. We’re going to change it to give it to those areas that need it.’ It doesn’t make sense, and it’s contrary to what’s been going on in this country for the last 50 to 100 years.”

Stanley continues to work with the League and other municipal officials on these issues and plans on running for mayor again in November. When he was elected in 2007, he joined the board with three other council members with a sense of purpose to better things and treat everybody with equality.

“I see a lot of good that being in government does, and I like it. It’s not an ego thing with me,” he said. “It’s working with agencies and the boards and trying to better the town and our standard of living. We had some good ideas, carried most of those out, and I’m proud of what we’ve done.”