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Goldsboro's Streetscape Project Revitalizes Downtown 

By Scott Mooneyham, NCLM Director of Public Affairs

It should come as no surprise that Goldsboro was chosen to serve as this year’s host of the N.C. Main Street Conference. A year earlier, the North Carolina chapter of the American Planning Association selected the city as a "Great Main Street in the Making" honoree for its Streetscape Project, which has recast the main downtown retail corridor, Center Street, and helped to redefine the downtown.

On four blocks of the pedestrian-friendly street today, you will find wide brick walkways that help to pull patrons into shops and restaurants (at least those who choose not to eat in outdoor dining areas). Music plays on speakers attached to decorative streetlight poles, the lighting fed by underground wiring. Three roundabouts, sculptures and a fountain help to complete a picture that beckons businesses and their customers.

The process that led to this transformation was among the topics at the conference. Julie Metz, executive director of the Downtown Goldsboro Development Corp., noted that the project was a long time in the making. It began in the 1990s with the creation of a downtown master plan and neighborhood master plan, and recruiting partners like the Self-Help Credit Union and Preservation NC. Supporters of downtown revitalization also made sure that they created and maintained contacts and good lines of communication with local and state elected officials, as well as agencies at the state and federal levels. And they sought public buy-in with public meetings.

Allison Platt, a design and architectural consultant on the project, said that communication is often about talking dollars and cents. "You have to sell this to your city fathers as an investment, not a cost. You get that money back, and a lot more," Platt said. By 2012, the city had jumped in feet first, agreeing to spend $1.4 million on the first block of reimagining and reworking the street. Goldsboro also won grants to help stabilize the nearby historic train station. While the idea was to eventually redo a six-block area, Metz acknowledged that there was risk in that initial phase. "It’s a little bit about taking a risk and having faith in yourself," she said.

By 2013, the city had paid for the design of two more blocks of the project. Those investments set the stage for Goldsboro’s big coup in 2014: the winning of a $10 million federal TIGER V grant. With the $2.8 million match from the city, that allowed for the Streetscape Project to be extended two more blocks, the city’s Transit Center to be rehabilitated, and improvements to a connecting street, Walnut Street, joining Center Street and the train station. Metz said one key to winning the grant was that the city had already paid for design services for the two additional blocks. "The keyword was to be shovel-ready," she said.

For the city, none of the work came easy. Besides the city’s investment and all that goes into trying to win state and federal grants, Assistant City Manager Fred Rash pointed out that there was a lot of effort that went into working with utility companies and engineers on utility line relocation and ensuring proper drainage on a street that is over 150 years old. A side benefit from all of that digging and utility work: the discovery of a number of Civil War relics, from bullets to belt buckles. (Goldsboro was the month-long and last stopping point for Sherman and his 90,000 troops at the end of the war.)

The award still did not go as far as the city and the downtown development group wanted. Eventually, they envision a six-block reworking of the street. Nonetheless, the results have been impressive. Since planning for the first block of the project was begun in 2010, 49 new businesses opened in downtown. There have also been 23 new owner/investors in downtown commercial buildings, with rehabilitation projects either completed or in the works valued at $3.8 million taking place in the last two years. Fifteen nearby homes that were in condemnation proceedings have been bought to be saved and rehabbed. And with all that momentum, the city has been able to win some additional state grants.

"You don’t do this because you want to make things beautiful, though that is a nice thing. You do this because of what comes afterward," Platt said.