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Talk of Our Towns 

Asheville, Chamber Team to See How Green Businesses Can Go

The City of Asheville is partnering with the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce to launch the Asheville Workplace Challenge, a self-assessment tool that gives guidance to help local businesses save money and reduce their environmental impact. Every day, more than 77,000 people go to a place of work in Asheville. These workplaces are more than just economic drivers – they are critical in shaping how we live and the impact we have on the city. By implementing sustainable practices, businesses can have a positive impact on our community and the environment. Through the Asheville Workplace Challenge, businesses can increase awareness of environmental issues and reduce energy use, water consumption and waste.

In celebration of Earth Day, the Kickoff for the Challenge was hosted by the Chamber of Commerce’s Business Before Hours event. At the kickoff, businesses were encouraged to visit, follow the link to the Asheville Workplace Challenge and complete an online survey. The online survey will assess current energy and water use, how employees get to work and what types of waste are generated. This baseline data provides a starting point. Once a business knows how they are performing right now, they’ll get tips to help them save money, increase awareness and become more sustainable. With this knowledge, businesses can complete a range of tasks designed to improve their workplaces and Green Challenge score. Businesses may edit their surveys until the closing date in September. By participating, they will be eligible for awards in several categories for Asheville’s first Green Workplace Challenge Awards Ceremony, set for October. Businesses and organizations of all sizes throughout Western North Carolina are encouraged to participate. Award winners must be located in Buncombe County.

By participating in the Asheville Workplace Challenge, a business can improve operations and reduce costs. The businesses will also have the opportunity to become part of a larger network with similar sustainability goals that will provide support and recognition along the way. The Workplace Challenge will track a company’s progress and will provide resources to guide them through a sustainability journey. Optional programs such as lunch-and-learns geared toward specific challenging areas will be offered throughout the process.

New Bern Electric Utility Nationally Recognized

The City of New Bern’s Electric Utility has received national recognition for achieving exceptional electric reliability in 2015. The recognition comes from the American Public Power Association (APPA), a trade group in Washington, D.C., that represents more than 2,000 not-for-profit, community-owned electric utilities.

"This honor recognizes utilities that are statistically thriving when it comes to reliability," said APPA Senior Vice President, Engineering Services Michael Hyland.

APPA took New Bern’s reliability data compiled through its eReliability Tracker Service and compared it to the top quartile of system outage duration from national reliability data collected by the Energy Information Administration, an independent agency that collects, analyzes and disseminates national energy data.

"We have a very hard-working, dedicated staff," said Jon Rynne, Director of Public Utilities for the City of New Bern. "They know how important it is that we keep the lights on and our system functioning optimally at all times. It’s nice to see that hard work pay off with this kind of recognition."

Consider these metrics, specific to New Bern’s reliability as compared to the national average: the System Average Interruption Duration Index (SAIDI) is defined as the average interruption duration, in minutes, for customers served by the utility system during a specific time period. New Bern’s SAIDI is 29.3734 minutes. The national average is 135.6394.

The System Average Interruption Frequency Index (SAIFI) is defined as the average number of instances a customer on the utility system will experience an interruption during a specific time period. New Bern’s SAIFI is 0.5395 as compared to the national average of 0.8068.

And finally, the Customer Average Interruption Duration Index (CAIDI) is defined as the average duration, in minutes, of an interruption experienced by customers during a specific time frame. New Bern’s CAIDI is 54.4424 minutes. The national average is 125.8881 minutes.

The city maintains a fully staffed Utility Control office where customers can report power outages or utility damages by phone or by email, 24 hours a day. The Utility Control office is located inside a secure facility on Kale Road and is capable of dispatching crews and linemen to address outages and utility damages. The city prides itself on placing courtesy return calls to customers to make sure their power has been restored.

Kannapolis Pursues Downtown Revitalization Project

The Kannapolis City Council has approved its first major Downtown Revitalization project. In September 2015, the city purchased 50 acres of land and buildings in the downtown core. A master development plan has been underway since that time with the city completing a market analysis, a site analysis and a financial analysis. The complete master development plan is expected to be completed this June.

In late April, the council met with the UNC School of Government’s Development Financial Initiative (DFI), which outlined feasibility data for a residential and retail project – called the Demonstration Project.

The Demonstration Project is the first step in the master development plan. It would be located at the 200 block of West Avenue. The two building complex would include apartments, a parking deck, retail and restaurant space. The marketing and site analysis demonstrated that residential units are sought after and needed to generate a core of people who will then drive more retail and dining growth in downtown. The city’s research clearly demonstrates people are the driving force needed to create economic development in downtown.

The proposed demonstration project would include a range of residential units: studio, one bedroom and two bedroom apartments. DFI presented data showing the project could potentially support approximately 200 residential units. The square footage and rental rates would be comparable and competitive to others in the region.

Developers will be sought to purchase the land and to construct the buildings. The city’s investment would be construction of the parking deck. The preliminary financial projections show that once completed the city would generate $208,000 annually in property taxes. Construction could be underway in spring 2017 if council approves the project and a developer is secured later this year.

"Our research has shown this project will be a key igniter for our downtown revitalization. People who are living in a downtown drive the economy by expecting to have shops, restaurants and entertainment options with walking distance," commented Kannapolis City Manager Mike Legg. "We have already had numerous inquiries developers and businesses excited about the opportunity to be a part of our City’s future."

The City Council also directed staff and DFI to proceed with releasing a request for proposal (RFP) document to seek a developer for the project. The open solicitation of developers using the RFP will be completed over the next two months, which is a typical timeline for this type of project.

Parks Director Retires After Five Decades in Department

I'd do it all over again tomorrow, if I could."

That’s what retiring Parks and Recreation Department Director Gary Leonhardt said about his five decades of service to the City of Morganton and to the community. He would do it all over again.

Gary Leonhardt first started working with the City’s Recreation Department in 1966 changing the scoreboard and umpiring games at the Midget League Ball Field. The Recreation Department was a bit different back then. The City operated the Collett Street Recreation Center and outdoor pool, the Midget League Baseball Field, and the Mountain View Recreation Center and outdoor pool.

"I started with the City when I was 14 years old, working part-time," Leonhardt said. "We were paid 50 cents a game then. We usually worked two games, and at the end of the night, we’d get paid a dollar out of the concession stand earnings."

During the summer, Leonhardt worked for the Recreation maintenance crews to help line and drag the ball fields. They had a hand-me-down truck from the water department and one tractor to drag and line the fields.

In 1968, Leonhardt started working in the maintenance department while he attended school, and he was hired as the Assistant Director of Mountain View Recreation Center in 1973. A year later, Leonhardt was promoted to Athletic Director in the Recreation Department, and then promoted to Assistant Director in 1985. In 1992, Leonhardt was promoted to Director of Recreation, where he has remained for the past 24 years.

The department has come a long way since 1968. Today, the Parks and Recreation Department manages more than 450 acres of recreation property that includes two recreation centers, an indoor and outdoor pool, a skeet and trap range, the Morganton Greenway System, Catawba Meadows Park, the Catawba River Soccer Complex, eight other City parks, dozens of programs, and youth and adult sports leagues.

Leonhardt said he was thankful for being able to work his entire career with the City and for the support of his staff and the community and especially City Manager Sally Sandy and former Mayor Mel Cohen.

"There was never a time in all the years that I worked that I thought, ‘Maybe I should leave recreation,’" Leonhardt said. "I truly enjoyed what I did."

More than 150 people attended Leonhardt’s retirement reception held at the Collett Street Recreation Center, Wednesday, March 16, 2016. City Manager Sally Sandy spoke during the reception and said Leonhardt was leaving some big shoes to fill, but that it would be easier for her to find a new director thanks to his achievements and the high standards he set for the department during his 24 years as director.

"There is a lot in this community because of Gary Leonhardt," Sandy said. "You can see him everywhere you go; you can see what a good man he is, and you can see how much he has loved this community. I appreciate the opportunity to work with you and serve with you and I wish you well."