We spend a lot of time talking about Rockey Mount’s problems. We can name the people on the Council, and those with positions in City Government that are the problem. When another significant piece of the revitalization puzzle is sabotaged, it is of no consequence to the ‘My Will Be Done’ crowd. There is an enormous cost, however, to the community when this happens. With the Carlton House under contract again, we must get this right.
The Carlton House is a prime example that the only plan that matters is the ‘My Will Be Done’ agenda. It makes no difference that places like Elizabeth City, Goldsboro, New Bern, Tarboro, and Wilson have proven the point that following a program like Main Street, produces results that are tangible, evident, and impressive. The pace of Main Street is dictated by those who don’t care about proven research that states what works and doesn’t. The admonition in all I’ve read is to follow and stick to a plan that will require hard work, dedication, and vision. The downtown plan, commissioned and paid for, isn’t suitable for those who work the systerm for personal gain.
I want to tell you a brief story about The Poinsett Hotel in Greenville. SC. Named after Joel R. Poinsett, the Secretary of War under President Fillmore, it was built-in 1925 at a cost of 1.5 million dollars. The Poinsett Hotel was designed by William L. Stoddard, a New York architect, and built by the J.E. Sirrine Company of Greenville. The hotel is a twelve-story skyscraper with a narrow rectangular plan and an L-shaped façade. As the hotel is to Greenville, a seemingly inconsequential place like the Carlton House, is essential to the success of Main Street for the same reasons. From the opening of the neglected hotel, growth followed in the area. It became an economic driver, a place of importance in the life of downtown Greenville.
Knox H. White is an attorney in his native Greenville, South Carolina, who has served as his city’s 34th and current mayor since December 11, 1995, a longer tenure than any other mayor of Greenville. Previously, he was an at-large member of the Greenville City Council from 1983 to 1993. He was elected on a platform of protecting neighborhoods, his legacy has become Greenville’s downtown revitalization.
I hear people say, “Well, a mayor can’t do much. He cuts ribbons, is a recognizable public face that represents the City, and does what he is told by the City Council. Knox White didn’t get that memo. His strong voice and leadership should have been cloned and sent forth to other Main Streets. “Nothing said downtown Greenville was back more than the reopening of the Poinsett. It spoke to the older people in Greenville who were the most skeptical about downtown redevelopment.” The Carlton House is our answer to “Maybe they aren’t going to tear down all our memories, afterall.”
Because of the narrow focus on themselves, with no plan but their own, the value of the Carlton House has been ignored and derailed. Thinking about the money they could divert into their pockets, they sold the newest scheme on the fact that Edgecombe County deserved a hotel, never having had one before. We know now the kind of people the City Manager turned to in order to ensure this scheme paid off. Never mind the significance of the Carlton House in drawing the local community downtown, and providing guests to the city a sense of place. When complete, this will be a major accomplishment.
A number of you could write about growing up in Rocky Mount as Knox White writes, “Growing up in Greenville, I often took the bus downtown. Now when I see the Mast General, I think about the old Meyers-Arnold department store. I can see the old movie theaters in my mind. My brother and I climbed the stairs of the old Woodside Building and did the same at the Daniel Building when it was under construction.” The Carlton House can do for us what the Poinsett Hotel has done for Greenville.
Leave a comment below about memories of chicken dinners on Sunday at the restaurant: The wedding parties, family celebrations, Mothers Day and graduation occasions. To have the Carlton House restored and vital will bear fruit. The area will be stabilized, it will offer hospitality to visitors, and welcome those who live here.
The so-called leadership that messed this project up with Jesse Gerstl, should keep hands off and let this be a win-win for the new owners and Rocky Mount. Here on Main Street, I am ecstatic with the thought that the Carlton House will be making memories once again for all who cross their threshold.
Stepheny Forgue Houghtlin grew up in Evanston, IL. and is a graduate of the University of Kentucky. She is an author of two novels: The Greening of a Heart and Facing East. She lives, writes and gardens in NC. Visit her: Stephenyhoughtlin.com
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