URGENT ATTENTION – PLAN B – Low Income Housing Development Partners – Woda Cooper

Columbus, OH. The 54 unit affordable seniors community was named Overall and Green winner for Affordable Housing Finance Readers Choice.

Woda Cooper has experienced developers, general contractors, and property managers specializing in design, construction, and management. If you google them you will find an impressive mass of work. Their online presence leaves a favorable impression of the company. Here is an example of one of the low-income housing projects they use on their Facebook header.

The City Council – #Item 14 – saw the approval of “development partner”, Woda Cooper Companies, for the construction of the “workforce housing” (low income) units on Tarboro Street, across from Edgecombe Community College. I have written, most recently on Concerned Citizens, how opposed I am to the location, not the type housing. Now PLAN B is another story. I found two projects that Woda Cooper has designed that I would hold the ladder for, bring donuts and sing.  This company REPURPOSES OLD BUILDINGS!!!  for low-income housing. What a great idea. We have a few of those. PLAN B accomplishes the same outcome for housing but keeps the integrity of our historic facades intact, saves a building, adds seamlessly to the historic downtown. PLAN B is a better solution.

 Then and now. The top photo on the right was taken in 1932 when the now Cavalier Greene was a thriving high school in Corunna, MI. The classic 1908 school building was adapted a few years ago to become a 40-unit affordable community. With the addition of a new 22,000 sq. ft. section designed to mesh well with the original architecture, Cavalier Greene offers one- and two-bedroom affordable apartments for seniors and workforce families/singles who earn 30 to 60% of area median income (AMI).


In order to create affordable places to live in downtown Cleveland,  Woda Cooper bought
the old Stuyvesant Motor Company Building at 1937 Prospect Avenue and built the Prospect Yard apartments. The building was built in 1917 and a stone in the brick at the top of the building still reads “Stuyvesant” after more than a century.  The building has 42 apartments, with rent starting at $330 and topping out at $1,247 depending on how large the apartment is.

When Woda Cooper first bought the building, this is what the inside looked like after years of neglect.

‘The project used many layers of historic tax credits. Woda Cooper went the extra step to also get affordable housing credits,  making it possible to keep rents low. The goal: to house people with working-class incomes and people needed in the downtown service industry. I don’t know if PLAN B will line pockets as easily as the cluster housing but I sure as heck know that to ‘restore and repurpose’ is a better answer for this project the wizards behind the curtain insist we must have. It becomes a piece of the Rocky Mount puzzle that fits. Don’t you agree?





Posted in Economic Development in Rocky Mount NC, Preservation of Historic Commercial Buildings | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

If Responsible City Leadership Welcomes Private Development – You’ve Got A Hit Song On Your Hands

Above The Store in New Bern, NC

Where responsible city leadership welcomes private development, the results have been fantastic. By working together for ‘a yes solution’ in their dealings with private investors, downtowns are saved and economic growth is stimulated.  Elizabeth City and New Bern are examples of this kind of success; revitalization at its finest. Here in Rocky Mount, it cannot be denied that the Wizards behind the curtain can still foot-drag, dilly-dallying, and make things difficult in an attempt to retain control over the downtown outcomes. A larger story has happened in spite of this.   Determined locals and an influx of creative, hard-working people will not be deterred. They are saving our commercial architecture one building at a time by repurposing them. Living Above The Store is under construction, a vital piece of the revitalization puzzle.

We’ve learned a great deal since the 1980 Urban Renewal period when terrible mistakes were made. Enough time has gone by to access what worked and didn’t. Tearing down paradise and putting up a parking lot was not the answer. A big piece of the answer is preserving a strong sense of place that is vital to the health and prosperity of a downtown. The Rocky Mount story creates a particular richness that is attracting new people while honoring the place others have always called home. 

“Research has proven that a successful revitalization must include a pedestrian-friendly, connected location with a lively environment that encourages visitors to linger and support the local economy.” Living Above The Store broadens the success of a downtown community. “A downtown with a critical mass encourages a connection to the local community because they don’t leave the area at the end of the day. They shop local, eat local and drink local—inherently helping spur the economy and foster the hip-factor of the district.”  Living downtown: a mix of people who can live nearer their jobs, are singles, married,  retired people who are sizing down and want to walk to nearby amenities. The emerging scene on Main Street Rocky Mount will include Living Above The Store. Way Cool, friends, Way Cool!

“Once you choose hope, anything’s possible.”
– Christopher Reeve  

In 2017, Scott Baldwin wrote an article called, Live-Work Units: Reasons to Include Them in Your Next Project. (Fisher, Ind.) I have quoted from his article in support of this post.   

Posted in Economic Development in Rocky Mount NC, Main Street Conference -2020, Preservation of Historic Commercial Buildings | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Ain’t Nothing Gonna Change – You Is Wastin’ Your Time”

900 Block of Gay Street

“Until you get the drugs out of here.”  That’s what I was told Saturday afternoon standing on Gay Street while talking with two older women that were out for a short walk. I was taking photographs in the 800-900 block on Gay between Tillery, Vyne, and Pine. I  parked my car and walked towards these old friends, one who’d lived in the neighborhood since the 70s. “It was nice back then, a good place until drugs came here.” She gestured with her hand towards several houses we were standing near to indicate their condition. Restored housing builds safe neighborhoods, fosters pride and homeownership, is an economic win, is vital for the community that is cultivating revitalization.

The little woman who did most of the talking told me she was paying $400.00 a month rent. “I’m not gonna pay that ‘sorry-ass’ man no more. I’m leaving.” The expression on her friend’s face told me this wasn’t the first time she’d heard this declaration.” I don’t use the ‘sorry ass’ expression myself but 15 minutes later I had taken quite a shine to it. If I wrote lyrics for songs instead of this blog, I would definitely use the phrase in a James Brown-like song, singing about these houses that have stood guard all these years over good people and are feeling the effects of old age and neglect, going down! going down!

When I asked who their councilman was, they didn’t know. You and I know these houses didn’t get like this since yesterday but over a long time of neglect. As far as I’m concerned, the blame is knocking on the Ward’s Councilman’s door who has influenced nada, nothing. How could they not have championed these people they supposedly care for and not be the driving force to use their position to stay the course with the police to clear the drug dealers out and keep them out! so investment will continue and these wonderful neighborhoods can be saved. Thank goodness for these angels in disguise that see the worth of these houses and are doing something about it. I was told that some of the residents on the street are working on their own homes. Look at these photographs with eyes to see how perfect they are for what we need. The women told me how nice some of the houses are inside. I imagine that’s in comparison to a less demanding standard than mine.

When we finished talking, the women told me, “You get on home before dark.” Several cautions to “Be careful!” I was leaving but they were staying. I drove away with, “Ain’t nothin’ gonna change until we get the drugs out of here,” ringing in my ears. I don’t know where the police station is that the Chief of Police resides. Having to stay at home, I can find a phone number, however, to plea my case after I figure out what to say. I’d rather walk through this area leading him by hand to see again with new eyes what it once was and has become and can be again. I learned a lot in those fifteen minutes. It upset me but still, I’m grateful. I blew them both a kiss and drove away. Though I’d said my name and that I write a blog, you know these two older ladies are still shaking their heads, “who in the hell was she?”

Posted in A Rocky Mount Neighborhood, Shot Gun Houses of Rocky Mount, Stepheny's Rocky Mount Reflections | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

The Emerging Scene On Main Street -Dedicated to David Joyner – A Speaker at the Main Street Conference

Living Room

“Architecture is the thoughtful making of space.”
― Louis Khan

At the Main Street Conference in New Bern, I signed up for one of the tours in order to see 3 properties, one in it’s gutted stage, and two ‘living above the store’ homes. Bill Hand wrote an article a while back about New Bern called Downtown Renaissance Took Years, Hard Work. It gives us a quick perspective applicable to Rocky Mount’s revitalization. I’ll let the comparisons speak for themselves.

Once upon a time, New Bern was a sleepy, dying river town whose waterfront was more eyesore than scenic. In 1979 Swiss Bear Downtown Development Corporation came into being and its years-long renaissance program turned the town into the tourism center it is today. A badly-run government, nepotism and a declining job market left “hundreds of people… leaving to find jobs in other places.” The city’s historic homes were also in decline with most deteriorated and some turned into apartments or low-income housing. Many of the city’s most beautiful homes were demolished. Meanwhile, the tax base continued to erode.

Open Kitchen Plan

Another View of Open Kitchen Area

By the 1960s New Bern was in an absolute crisis state and the waterfront ceased to exist. Moffat-Thomas, a mover in New Bern’s turn around said, “When I moved here people told me it was so bad that people were afraid to come downtown. The area had been abandoned and a lot of vermin were there. It was a sad place.”

One of the bedrooms

The Master Bath

Then, in the 70s, “a group of focused, bright professional people took the reins in their hands. They understood that they needed to unite and develop a plan and a consensus for moving the city forward. A 1977 central business district revitalization plan called for that development, and also called for the city to turn toward tourism and attracting retirees to the area, whose disposable income would be key to the economy. “Everybody got excited. Everybody was working hard,”

View out the MBR of the historic Episcopal Church

A wall large enough for this beautiful cabinet and glass collection

Rocky Mount has a new story to tell that is larger than the years of neglect and shenanigans we can’t deny have taken place. The emerging Main Street scene has a group of focused, bright people that have taken the reins into their hands as well. There are a lot of people excited and hard at work. The photographs I took in this second story building are to show you that living above the store isn’t about what I call “tried to and couldn’t.” Granted this home belongs in a magazine because of it’s beautiful furnishings and art but the design of the space came first.  On Main Street, there has been a lot of time and talent beneath the wings of the projects taking place that include living above the store.

Open Dining Room Space split with Living Room

Another view of the Living Room


Ceiling Fan on screened porch leading to deck

Outside Deck

This post is dedicated to  David Joyner, a Rocky Mount treasure, whose session I attended at the conference  Telling the Main Street Story. For me, he was the highlight of the two days with his presentation, good humor, vast knowledge, and experience. I hope he recognizes a thing or two I learned from him in this post. Thank You! Thank You!

Window on the back staircase leading down and out

Final View in leaving this beautiful space

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The Emerging Scene On Main Street -‘Living Above The Store’ – Coming Soon

One of the highlights of The Main Street Conference in New Bern was the opportunity to see two gorgeous ‘living above the store’ homes. Coming soon to Main Street, we will have the same opportunity. What I saw was amazing. In this case, both places are owned by retired couples that filled their second-floor homes with a lifetime of collecting art, beautiful furniture, and southern charm. New Bern is desperate for rental and sale places in order to live downtown. This emerging scene of ours will fill an important nitch for young professionals, management that is connected to the new jobs being created, for singles, couples, retired folks and those who want to live close to their work. These ‘living above the store’ opportunities illustrate how the revitalization of Rocky Mount is unfolding: an example of preservation, restoration, and repurposing done the right way. This availability to live downtown in our historic commercial buildings is vital to saving Main Street; the name I use to include the entire downtown district. I hope the New Bern photos get you excited about the work going on downtown. The Repairers of the Breach are hard at work.

The staircase to an amazing space.

The door on the left is to the store. On the right upstairs.

Living room space

The ceiling above living room space

Beautiful floors throughout

A lovely brick arch left intact

One of the bathrooms

Bookcases along a hallway

A dining space

View out a bedroom window unto the street below

Photographs of the second ‘above the store’ living later this week.

After keeping me company on Main Street, you get it that there is something at stake here that goes beyond the obstacles to grace Main Street can encounter. This quote says it better than I can.

“The current passion for reuse might be explained by sustainability or fashion but, most importantly, it affords a sense of history and texture, taking advantage of buildings already embedded in cities. They are buildings with atmosphere, history, and stories inscribed in their fabric. And sometimes sustainability isn’t just about the energy and materials saved but about the stories, craft and intelligence embodied in its walls.”                                        -Paul Miles – The Financial Times


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Telling Our Architectural Story – Part Of Welcoming New People To Rocky Mount

Villa Place Historic District. Located at 326 Howell St.

In 1923 one of Rocky Mount’s architectural gems was moved to what became the Villa Place Historic District. This Queen Anne Victorian home holds court on 326 Howell Street. This house is known as the  W.D. Cochran home. It is one of the dwindling examples of two-story Queen Anne’s that once stood near the central business district: What I call Main Street and nearby areas on this blog. Local architect, John C. Stout, designed the house that began its life in the 300 block of South Main Street. Think about how improved methods are today to accomplish this complicated feat.

In returning from The Main Street Conference, I can tell you that the word is out. When asked where I was from, I didn’t bother with the Nashville fact and said–“Rocky Mount.” Many responses acknowledged knowing about the positive things happening here. Many had been to the Mill! We’re expecting a big influx of new neighbors who are moving to Rocky Mount because of jobs coming our way and ……. because of the emerging Main Street scene. Many have arrived. If you work in real estate and aren’t telling the story and showing clients our historic district locations, you are not on the revitalization train.  Encourage people to take advantage of a great price, do the HGTV-thing, save and preserve one of the many historic gems as an exciting and satisfying adventure. Start with Villa Place, Edgemont and, and, and.

I LOVE VILLA PLACE – -It is a nine-block neighborhood located three blocks west of Main Street. It is the most intact turn-of-the-century residential subdivision in the city of Rocky Mount. The densely developed neighborhood is filled with well-preserved Queen Anne, Foursquare Bungalows, Craftsman, Colonial Revival and Neoclassical Revival style houses built between 1900 and the 1940s by employees of the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad and other businesses in the bustling railroad and tobacco town. The West End Land Development Company laid out the east half of the district in 1891 and sold lots until 1907 when the American Suburban Corporation took over the development. In 1913 this company platted the west half of the district as Villa Place. The entire area is now known by this name. The principal district landmark is Machaven, a Neoclassical Revival style brick mansion built in the middle of the subdivision in 1908 from a design by Raleigh architect H. P. S. Keller. Thanks to investor Jesse Gerstl, Machaven is open again. The strong local significance of Villa Place in the history of Rocky Mount’s community development and architectural development is a great part of our story that all incoming folks will appreciate knowing.

Here we have photos of the 1895 historic Jones-Lee house that has been moved to 304 S. Greene St., Greenville, from Wilson, NC.  Solo Farm and Food Restaurant moved and restored this beautiful house that is now open in its new location. Our Howell Street Cochran House was moved but a few blocks. Think of what this Greenville relocation was like. You know what I say…anything they can do we can do better.  Here is another example that provides inspiration for what preservation and restoration can accomplish.

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We’re On The Road to New Bern, NC – The Main Street Conference – March 10-12

 We better be on the road by 7;00 AM, an obscene time for one who hates to go to bed and hates to get up. I want to attend a workshop that starts at 10:oo: #1)Tips for Successful Grant Writing. I know a little bit, but when it comes to my crusade for our Shotgun Houses and Bungalows, I’ve got to get smarter. This session is about grant writing for communities of all sizes and offers best practices and tips on how to write a successful grant application. Attendees will learn how to navigate through the mumbo-jumbo and focus on the most critical parts of the application. I’m determined to enter the grant world if it helps us save our residential architecture with money that is available to Historic Preservation projects. Unfortunately, you can only pick one session for each time slot.

I grew up with alleys in Evanston, IL. and, of course, Chicago’s use of alleys. I’m intrigued that alleys have become significant in the revitalization of communities. I’ve written on the blog about our alleys. I’m pleased to attend #2) Creative Alley Connections. This session will explore how Main Street programs around the state have incorporated paving materials, plantings, water, lighting, and art to build creative alley connections that are places that you want to walk through or even hang out in for a while. Sounds great, doesn’t it?

One of the Keynote talks is on Small-Scale Manufacturing & Main Street: The Secret Sauce  Too many places are stuck with a set of economic development strategies left from the 1980s. People and places are being left behind — but it doesn’t have to be that way. Join this conversation to learn about how we can flip the model on economic development and do it a better way. An approach that invests in people and places. An approach that focuses on actions today and not just long-term plans. This talk will discuss the secret sauce to build a strong and resilient economy through concrete steps that include entrepreneurship, why (and how) to focus on small-scale manufacturing businesses as a catalyst, and how new real estate models for Main Street can be essential to success. You have more assets at your fingertips than you think. Small- scale manufacturing businesses are hidden gems in your community. They are a key ingredient for your main street – one you can mix in immediately!

Several more of the workshops I’ve picked – #3) Creating Great Streets -The guiding principles of great streets create a sense of place that is unique to the community, and a place where you want to live, work and hang out. This session will explore tips that you can take home to ignite your streets and attract people to downtown.


#4) Make Downtown A Destination Through Storytelling  — Branding is perception and perception is reality. The strength of your Downtown’s image is a direct result of how effectively you tell your Main Street District’s story. In this session, marketing and branding expert, David Joyner, will share the why and how to effectively reinvent the perception of your Main Street District. The audience will learn best practices on how to orchestrate and execute effective marketing strategies and tactics to better tell the story of Main Street’s momentum in a way that resonates with your desired audience.

There are several New Bern Tours – I picked Upstairs Downtown —Take a peek at several innovative downtown residential spaces. Spaces include current construction that is transforming unused former offices into second-floor rental apartments as well as fully renovated apartments/condos that include some of the most beautiful residences in New Bern. Inspiration is just a staircase away.

We are on our own for lunches. I am skipping dinners that are extra money and don’t quite float my boat. I’ve googled and found a place for lunch or dinner at a restaurant called Persimmons Waterfront Restaurant on Pollock St. It’s on the water, hopefully, with a New Bern atmosphere, slightly romantic with a breeze and the murmurer of voices over their Sweet Tea. I’m going to use these breaks to wander around and over food, reflect on our Main Street,  and what I am learning at the Main Street Conference. I am taking all of you with me. Let’s hope we return home wiser, filled with information, determined anew.

It looks like a Brussel Sprout salad that I’m going to try.


Posted in Main Street Conference -2020 | Tagged | 4 Comments