I have traveled to Italy on a wonderful garden tour in Tuscany. To this day I revisit memories that I relish. I’ve researched and used both Lucca and Pienza, my two favorite cities, for locations in my second novel, Facing East. The tour did not include Venice, but I’ve spent hours there through the mystery series written by Donna Leon. Over time I have come to consider the intelligent and capable Police Commissioner, Guido Brunetti as one of my most interesting and likable friends who waits for me on the pages of Leon’s books. Brunetti and the ensemble of characters never fail to deliver a satisfying mystery. In each book, Leon explores Venice and its wide spectrum of issues. In finishing the latest Leon read, Through a Glass, Darkley, I found an interesting corollary to help me think about Councilmen, Knight, and Blackwell who persist in maintaining control over everything. If challenged, asked questions, their deflection is the predictable accusation of racism that motivates scrutiny. I continue to look for answers on how this is allowed to go on. Brunetti was helpful.
Brunetti is an erudite man. In this case, he is thinking about Dante’s Inferno. What category would Dante have assigned the villain? To the hoarders, who are condemned to push their heavy stone, for all eternity? Thinking about these categories, Brunetti remembers a report in a science column in La Repubblica on experiments done with people suffering from Alzheimer’s. Many of them lost the use of the brain mechanism that told them when they were hungry or full. If given food repeatedly, they would eat again and again, unconscious of the fact that they had just eaten and should no longer be hungry. Brunetti finds this applicable to people afflicted with the disease of greed: the concept of ‘enough’ had been eliminated from their minds.
Frustrated, amazed, and baffled, I keep waiting for justice, that does not come. Without shame, Council meeting after meeting, the ‘My Will Be Done’ agenda persists. Mr. Blackwell’s seat is available. His Ward may reelect him, but at a great cost to the city. After twenty-plus years, what started out as good intentions and energy to serve, has become skullduggery on steroids. It is never ‘enough.’ This is what happens when greed takes over. Case in point, The Unity Cemetery project by volunteers that represent the U N I T Y that is possible in Rocky Mount. That fact sent two councilmen into orbit. Scroll down to read any comments that may be left on each blog post.
I have spent some quiet time since the City Council meeting this past Monday wrestling with how to hold the eternal varieties of the discussion over Unity Cemetery. These adjective words describe the situation that night.
without beginning or end; lasting forever; always existing
perpetual; ceaseless; endless:
eternal quarreling; eternal chatter.
Photographer William Manley and others have provided powerful images of the Unity Cemetery restoration; a holy place where members of the community of saints rest. The response, the selflessness, the hearts that took this burial site from talking to action is the greatest example of preservation and restoration. Preserving the history and the story that each headstone represents is like an architectural dig: carefully peeling back the layers of leaves, brush, and fallen limbs that have blanketed the cemetery for a long time. I do not speak for this group of volunteers, but I know they will not be deterred by the perpetual, ceaseless, and endless rhetoric on display Monday night.
The deep and serious tone of concern in the voices of both Councilmen is predictable now that this carefully organized effort and large response have happened. Mr. Blackwell went so far as to infer that someone might deliberately destroy the black history at Unity. Never mind the years that have only become urgent now. Mr. Knight began with records of the Council in 2007 that are meant to prove their interference now. It was said, “We need to hire someone to do this right.” “Someone might get hurt.” It’s the City’s responsibility to see after this for the community.” I hope you remember the word, ‘blarney.’ I would like to add, ‘such blarney.’
These volunteers on Saturday are a dream come true. Volunteers that have come together IN UNITY are now a big problem! The reason is that these two Councilmen won’t allow anything to happen that isn’t under their control. This position is perpetual; ceaseless and endless. The fall election could free the community from one vote that has assumed the right to a lifetime position. There is no hope for me who continues to get mad and stomp around. The UNITY CEMETERY advocates know better. They have already risen above this eternal chatter. We cheer them on, which is ‘meet and right so to do.’
“Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.” –Warren G. Bennis
Since Usher is my favorite, we have his rendition of Marvin Gaye’s song, Mercy, Mercy Me. I know the song is about the environment, but he kept singing in my ear as I considered writing this post on the impact of crime in Rocky Mount. Click on the song link above, and you will agree that the song is a soulful reflection of what we are asking. What is going on?
I wrote about the Carlton House in the last post and talked about Knox White, the mayor of Greenville SC. If the majority vote on Rocky Mount’s City Counsel would get their priorities straight, the city manager could honestly repeat this Knox White quote. “We implemented a strategy to attract developer interest. By ensuring that downtown was clean and safe with emerging entertainment and dining options, people began to see it as a place to live and not just visit.”
Troy Davis and others creating living spaces downtown, indeed, every business, should be all over the leadership about the crime problem that will impact their ability to sell the quality apartments they are creating. It will affect other services available in the downtown area.
My favorite expression when considering the ‘My will Be Done’ agenda is a certainty that it is always bass-ackward. A Hotel, a parking garage, and low-income housing on ECC’s parking lots are the definition of putting the cart before the horse. It is the preservation, restoration, and repurposing of the significant architectural inventory in the historic downtown area that is the prioritity; core assets that have been allowed to deteriorate. The commercial buildings have long needed emergency triage and immediate protection. Is it any wonder there is the outrage over selfish schemes that are served up as necessities and payback?
I think of the older lady I talked to in the middle of Pine St. She said, “Honey, nothin’ gonna change until you get the crime out of here.” That is her reality, and she encouraged me to get along home before dark. The hotel and parking garage takes priority over the people who live with neglect and false promises at election time. I include a video made in 2013, a powerful visual link that has surfaced. It could have been filmed today. The video has Usher’s cry all over it. Mercy, Mercy Me-What’s Goin’ on?
Unless personal gain is your priority, it is not difficult to see how important controlling crime in the neighborhoods and downtown is to a successful outcome. If the ‘My Will Be Done’ folks would commit to zero crime tolerance, the emerging scene downtown will bear fruit. Short of a Damascus Road conversion, it is like the AA premise: you can’t reason with a person who still drinks and you can’t reason with people who have learned how to rig the system and like it. Let us continue to work towards the next election, where four seats are available. Each of these seats must have a commitment to Rocky Mount’s basic needs: significant crime reduction, safe neighborhoods, restored housing, education, and jobs.
Troy Davis is a long way down the road from these photographs I took early on. He is creating 32 apartments above street level in two buildings on Main Street that were allowed to deteriorate because ordinances weren’t enforced on cronies who owned the buildings. The renewed concept of living above the store is a great step forward. The accredited cities I mentioned in the last post follow the Main Street program. The apartments I have seen, and written about, made me covet the convenience, and the lifestyle. Without crime reduction, Troy and others will suffer the consequences of potential residents and customers with safety concerns. This must not happen. This financial risk and that of other brave-hearts helping to save Main Street are essential. Those who are planting their flags around town are heroes. We have confidence in the men and women in law enforcement. Let them do the jobs they are trained for. Forget the latest bright idea, a revised development agency and a new hire to further the personal gain skullduggery. What is needed is leadership and a will to declare crime will no longer be tolerated. Clampdown, concentrate within an area with known crime until it is driven out and kept out. Let law enforcement prevail.
Once again, we are presented with a fait accompli. I often imagine Mr. Knight, Mr. Blackwell, and the City Manager, staying up all night to come up with things like a revised development agency. You see, we need this. Never mind the plan in the drawer, bought and paid for, forget the kicked to the curb Main Street Program that requires accountability and record-keeping. Who needs the input from the hard-working and dedicated Downtown Merchants Association or the Central City Revitalization? It’s too sensible to bring the downtown investors and business owners into the mix.
For years, the “My Will Be Done Agenda” has gotten away with bending the regulatory role of government to line their pockets and to take care of their cronies. In their wisdom, they let roofs fall to the floor, ignored the broken glass windows, and the peeling paint on the boarded-up facades. This new agency has been birthed in greed to maintain control over Main Street. These same people with a new scheme left the historic downtown’s significant commercial architecture to disintegrate. Now they require a new agency and hire to do their bidding.
The only plans they ever have are the ones that cost the taxpayers, involve grants they finagle, or a project they believe will benefit them personally. We had plans that didn’t suit the “My Will Be Done” agenda. The typical treatment Chris Miller received in voicing her objections before the 4-3 vote comes from those who have conflict of interest and have lost their right to make decsions on behalf of the community.
Believe me, this new agency doesn’t care about the collective buildings on Main Street, that bear witness to the past and are the future. “It connects us in time and space to those who went before us even as it represents our legacy to those who come after.” Blair Kamin – Chicago Tribune Architecture Critic
The ‘My Will Be Done’ plan hasn’t a clue or passion for a holistic approach to preservation, restoration, and repurposing historic downtown. I don’t underestimate the ideas of the marketplace that are positive and have gained a foothold that we must support. We cannot contemplate the thought that once again we will be bemoaning the results after the fact. I ask that at least, Preservation Rocky Mount, Historic Preservation Commission, Merchants Association, and Central City Revitalization discuss the responsibility we have to do what is best for Main Street despite these new efforts to control how the emerging scene continues.
Some places speak distinctly. Certain dank gardens cry aloud for a murder; certain old houses demand to be haunted; certain coasts are set apart for shipwrecks. ~Robert Louis Stevenson
I’m sure you remember Treasure Island, an adventure novel by Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson. The book influenced our perceptions of pirates, including treasure maps marked with an “X,” and one-legged seamen with a parrot on their shoulder. It was first published on 14 November 1883 by Cassell & Co. A lovely read audio link to Chapter One. will make your heart smile.
Jim Hawkins is a young boy who lives at his parents’ Inn, Admiral Benbow, near Bristol, England, in the eighteenth century. An old sea captain named Billy Bones dies in the inn after being presented with a black spot, an official pirate verdict of guilt or judgment. When Jim and his mother unlock Billy’s sea chest, they find a logbook and a map for a treasure that the infamous pirate Captain Flint has buried on a distant island.
When I came across the Stevenson quote above, “Some places speak distinctly…” I thought of Rocky Mount’s treasure map which has drawn upon it, Main Street and beyond. It has a distinct sense of place and story that is being preserved. The following Stevenson quote identifies those who are preserving, restoring, and repurposing significant commercial and residential architecture. It refers to the business people downtown who are apart of the new emerging scene and to the investors who have come aboard to help save our treasures.
“We got together in a few days a company of the toughest old salts imaginable–not pretty to look at, but fellows, by their faces, of the most indomitable spirit.”
― Robert Louis Stevenson, Treasure Island
In 2020, we are contending with our own plundering pirates. Stevenson writes in Treasure Island about the ‘pirates who sail on laden with crimes and riches.’ Those who continue to plunder the taxpayers shall have the black spot, their own verdict of guilt and judgment, turned back upon them. The decisions that continue to be made by people who pay no price for being wrong, must stop so we can get on with all the exciting possibilities drawn on our map. Seats on the City Council, city management, have their own map. It is the MY WILL BE DONE agenda that continues to steer us into turbulent seas. For all the tough old salts uncovering our buried treasure,
“We must go on because we can’t turn back.” Robert Louis Stevenson, Treasure Island
I have reached the last stages of editing my third novel. As background information, the main character, Sarah Collins, is accepted into the highly competitive Architectural History Program at The University of Texas in Austin. Sarah’s career is the touchstone for the story.
Sarah adopts a Teddy Roosevelt quote for her own purposes when she talks about the first time she stood before a Double Gallery home in the Garden District of New Orleans which was to be her new home. She says, “This is where the romance of my life began.” Would you be surprised to find in the novel that I mention shotgun houses or the mismanagement of local government? You will find mentioned the significance of historic buildings. The backdrop for the story has these elements, allowing me to create a world for one of my unlived lives. Through a shocking revelation, the second half of the book returns the reader to the Cotswold village of Burford, where #1 is set in Greening of a Heart.
In writing the Main Street Rocky Mount blog and Facebook page, I wish I had the credentials Sarah Collins acquires. If it didn’t require robbing a bank, I would apply to The Savanah School of Art and Design (SCAD), including architecture, urban design, architectural history, and historic preservation. The school is housed in historic buildings that have been repurposed. Image that! What you get is a Stepheny that grew up on the marvels of Chicago architecture. I have become a perpetual happy student who is self-taught. I love the research, the books, both fiction and non-fiction, that relate to the subjects on the blog. Last Spring, because I was researching a post I wanted to write about black architects in America, I reread Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, set in the world of architects. My new novel is partially set in New Orleans when Katrina makes landfall. I read Chris Rose’s book containing his Post-Katrina columns for the Times-Picayune. It was well written and helpful to me as I tried to fictionalize what was real. I used a Rose quotation in the novel and need it now.
‘As bad as it is here, it’s better than being somewhere else.’
Between the anxiety over the upcoming election and endlessly waiting for justice to descend upon the City Council and government, it hasn’t been easy being “green,” as Kermit says. Even the virus, a patience maker or derangement instigator, has pushed us towards the limits of “being cute.” Here in Rocky Mount, the names of the same people who have done us wrong are repeatedly spoken. We are still standing on one foot or the other while self-serving decisions are made. To say I’m impatient is an understatement, but I continue to believe the net is going to drop!
Standing on Main Street, taking in all the positive work that happens, despite ourselves, the fine people revitalizing the commercial buildings, will prevail. It has been fifteen years since Katrina (August 2005), and the work to preserve their city and culture continues. New Orleans has a Preservation Group that sets the highest bar possible. In the novel, I tell you about the bus on Magazine Street that starts service again in October of 2005. The empty bus continues to run its route each day. Stay on the Rocky Mount bus until the destination is reached, regardless of a bumpy ride.
This building on Sunset downtown looks across at Howard Street – Such Possibilities
An architectural gem sits deteriorating that could become the jewel it once was Rocky Mount, NC – Ward 1
If there is as much as $20k available for a mural, that money should NOT be given to an organization that can very well pay for their own projects. Not having this kind of money, it is easier to rely on”their guys” on the Council. The laughable bit is that if they were providing the money, I doubt the project would cost $1000.
Taxpayers do not approve of this latest scheme. Read the comments on Concerned Citizens who have far better suggestions for the use of this money. What about the house pictured above in Ward 1? There are plenty of houses in Wards 1,2,3,4 that sit boarded up and abandoned that continue to be neglected by their Councilmen. Even worse is the condition of the housing people are living in.
I will take our local Black Lives Matter Action Committee seriously when they think bigger for the community than a mural on the street. When they mentor young people who need someone to believe in the possibilities of their lives. I’ll believe the Committee when all this posturing and bluster translates to action and real help. If the September 13th City Council meeting approves as much as $20k for Mr. Blackwell’s son, rather than doing the right thing, it will be one more unforgivable decision for the “My Will Be Done” Agenda that has little to do with other black lives that do matter. Wouldn’t it be grand if for once right prevails.
FYI: Posting Mr. Pitman’s Post From Social Media
I’m glad members of the CCRP are deciding to speak out instead of taking the blame. If you take a look at the Ratio plan, which as a member of the CCRP I participated in. You will see on the front page that it was a joint effort between the City Council and the CCRP. In August of 2016 the City Council approved the request of the City Manager at the time to hire Ratio to create a Downtown plan. In November of 2017 the Council makes a motion to adopt the plan. In February of 2018 it was set for a vote that never happened due to concerns of gentrification. We touched on gentrification while crafting the plan. The Council participated heavily. Once we added changes to the plan, it then went to the Council to look over and approve those changes. We added neighborhoods they were concerned about. We expanded areas to combat gentrification they were concerned about. We held community meetings to gather input. In the end the final draft was set. Since the plan was not approved, we lost our Main Street Accreditation. Simple. We won accreditation initially because they could see we had a plan in place. To say Accreditation and Affiliation is the same thing is just plain ignorant. We wore that accreditation like a badge of honor based on the hard work we all put in. Since the plan was never approved by the Council. This has lead to the creation of a small group of individuals, friends of the Council, who have set out as rogue agents to create their own plan. The CCRP has been powerless and kept out of the loop because of a lack of meetings due to the COVID19 pandemic. They pounced on this opportunity. So to blame the CCRP for the lack of an overall plan for downtown amounts to a LIE so certain individuals on the Council can advance their own personal agendas, which includes lining their pockets, without input from the CCRP. It’s all about the money baby!#LetsGrowTogether
A real estate investor told the Telegram he believes the issue regarding the revitalization of the heart of the city is not whether Rocky Mount’s Main Street program is accredited but rather the absence of a plan.
“And there has been a lack of a plan and a lack of a vision for downtown Rocky Mount for the two years that I’ve been an investor and been spending time in Rocky Mount,” Jesse Gerstl said on Friday. “I encourage the city to pass any vision or plan and set out a road map for how we can achieve that plan so that we can all work toward that goal.”
Specifically, Gerstl said he believes the lack of a definitive vision and plan, and codes and guidelines to support that vision and plan, is a hindrance to developers to know what they should be working toward.
Gerstl was commenting in the context of the state Commerce Department on July 2 saying 48 municipalities in North Carolina for 2020 have accredited Main Street programs — that is, those in the highest tier.
Rocky Mount’s Main Street program lost accreditation status after 2017 and remains an affiliate. What has been preventing Rocky Mount’s Main Street program from regaining accreditation has been the lack of a work plan, which provides details for a Main Street program’s activities.
Main Street programs seek to help transform older and historic commercial districts into vibrant areas with thriving economies.
During the City Council’s July 13 work session, City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney said she believes there is no fundamental proof of there being a difference between an accredited Main Street revitalization program and an affiliate.
However, Small-Toney said she favored restarting the process of a preparing a master plan for revitalizing downtown Rocky Mount.
There is an extensive draft document, completed in 2017 and known locally as the Ratio plan, which provides a long list of recommendations and ways to improve Rocky Mount’s once-proud central business district. The Ratio plan apparently never was approved by the municipal government.
Gerstl told the Telegram on Friday that regardless of whether people liked or disliked the Ratio plan, the draft document at least set out the pathway toward a vision “and something we could work toward.”
Gerstl said he believes having an accredited Main Street program would be great.
“But if the city doesn’t feel that that’s important, that’s fine,” Gerstl said. “But a plan is important.”
During the July 13 council work session, Councilman Andre Knight asked City Business Development Manager Kevin Harris who determines the work plan for Rocky Mount’s Main Street program.
Harris said the Central City Revitalization Panel.
The CCRP administers a program utilizing financial incentives to encourage improvements and preservation within the central city part of Rocky Mount.
Gertsl, who is a member of the CCRP, told the Telegram the CCRP is a volunteer citizen group that needs to be guided and managed by municipal staff.
Gerstl also said the municipality has a community and business development department whose job includes working with and getting input from the CCRP to help develop a master plan or any plan for the continued growth of downtown Rocky Mount.
Gerstl also pointed out the CCRP has not met in months. Small-Toney, in March amid the spread of the coronavirus, announced the postponement of the meetings of boards and commissions.
Gerstl, prior to the effect of COVID-19, advocated having teleconferencing so CCRP members could participate remotely in meetings and ensure there were enough members to be able to vote on items of business.
Gerstl told the Telegram on Friday that “everyone everywhere is having meetings virtually.”
Gerstl said, “I truly don’t understand why we continue to just choose not to do our work.”
In the meantime, Gerstl and his team of partners are continuing to seek a purchaser for the former Carleton House, which is in the 200 block of North Church Street and once was a motor lodge and restaurant.
The Telegram on Sept. 29 reported Gerstl and his team planned to renovate the site before deciding not to proceed with the project because he and his team have many other projects going on downtown.
Gerstl for that story also said that the former Carleton House was quite a large project and added that he believed the timing was not right.
Gerstl told the Telegram on Friday, “We’ve had a little bit of interest, but nothing concrete yet. We’re hoping to sell it as soon as possible.
“Obviously it’s not the greatest time to be selling a hotel due to the coronavirus and the current economic situation, but we’re hopeful that it will sell soon,” Gerstl said.
The list sale price for the property is $1.55 million. The property is listed online with the Mumford Co., which specializes in advising hotels, and with the Chambliss & Rabil real estate company.
Interestingly, the Ratio plan called for the former Carleton House site, once redeveloped, to be part of what would have been an event and entertainment district downtown.
These photographs are but a sample of the state of things under this long term Councilman. Don’t you think Mr. Knight’s expiration date is past due? Here is a treasure of historic housing with no champion to help with things like applications for incentive money that from time to time is available from the city. This is not to say that there are not bright spots in Ward 1 like the Holly Street Neighborhood Revitalization.
There are newer housing developments that have nice homes. If the residents of Ward 1 continue to elect Mr. Knight and expect a different outcome, you will continue to get what you already have. Resident Ella Clark says it better than I can. These fabulous historic buildings throughout the Ward do not make money for Mr. Knight. They need money and leadership to restore their significant value to the community who once loved these homes well. Nothing will change until the people of Ward 1 say, “enough is enough.”
Ella Clark Letter: I hear every day Black Lives Matter. Yes, they do.
At the present time, our Black historic buildings are being neglected. Lincoln Park Restaurant & Motel located off Leggett Road in northeast Rocky Mount is a prime example. The condition of this building is deplorable. Lincoln Park Restaurant in its prime catered to the Black middle class. The majority of the Black artists of that time were booked at this site. Lincoln Park Restaurant was also famous for its pit barbecue.
Annie W. Holland School located on Luper Street in the Little Raleigh Community was named after Annie Wealthy Holland. Annie W. Holland in 1928 was in the North Carolina Congress of Colored Parents and Teachers. It is so sad that the condition of this school has fallen into such bad repair. What happened to our dignity and self-respect? Black neighborhoods are devastated to this day.
The city will give us a ticket for not cutting our grass but they won’t even sweep the street, especially in the Black neighborhoods. Some of the dog parks are maintained better than care for some neighborhoods. The city has no concerns about the condition our neighborhood is in evidently.
It is amazing how the city has allowed Black neighborhoods to deteriorate. Are you checking to see who owns the rundown property?
We take pride in being a homeowner and keep our property up but are surrounded by the rundown property, which lowers the value of our property. Moving a statue that cannot talk or walk or see and has been in place for many years while spending money that could be used to restore running down Historic sites. Money spent, but yet where do you put the statue?
This will not solve the problem that is here in this city. From east to west, north to south, this city looks down again all the Black communities. “Black Communities Matter.” There is no honor amongst thieves. We have been robbed by our leadership and told enough to keep us happy, but we are not happy. We are angry about the money that was spent moving a statue is not solving anything when we are living in slums.
City mayor, city manager, and City Council, what are you doing besides what you want and not for the people? It is not about the color of your skin, it is how things are done and how the black community has fallen down. Who is to blame? “Black Communities Matter.”
You’re covering up instead of fixing up. How long will cover up last? That’s a question that you as leaders should ask yourselves and respect one another.
Photographs by SFH -July 24, 2020 – to illustrate Ms. Clark’s letter
These are savable houses that should take priority over the usual schemes that have nothing to do with the residents of #1 who deserve desent housing.