You already know that Howard Street is always on my radar screen. It suits my imagination to a tee because of its location, tucked away like your grandmother’s antique ring in a satin ring box. In the light it sparkles and greatly admired. Troy White is the wind under the sails of the two buildings being restored and repurposed; the rendering of the outcome in the lead photo. The alley-like passageway down Howard Street still lacks a continuity. Continuing the methaphor, as you walk the block, it is like costume jewelry thrown in a box, a little of this and that. When these two buildings are complete, the energy and inspiration they will reflect, becomes a template for success. Move to Howard Street, create a business, shine up what you have. As a Howard Street cheerleader, I say, give me a P, give me a R, give me a I, give me a D, give me a E. Thanks!
I hope by now you agree that preservation is art. I’m grateful when it presents itself. Here, the sun shines through the upper framing. I believe this light will remain within this building as a new life emerges for both buildings. I still haven’t met Troy White but when I do, I will hug him for all of us for this investment on Howard Street and his heart that believes in preservation, restoration and repurposing. I am thankful he is doing these things here.
PS: Two large containers filled with seasonal flowers at each end of the street, would be a nice invitation to stroll, perhaps meet a few of the lucky neighbors that live along this special street. I also think box containers filled with herbs placed here and there would contribute to this neighborhood’s charm. Flowers, outdoor seating where neighbors could enjoy being outside. Possibilities, that’s what this street is full of.
Like beads on a rosary, I pause on each bead to add a name connected to the preservation, restoration, and repurposing of Main Street. I name the place holders like Virginia’s and The Bicycle Shop, that welcome new business, and the entertainment sector: restaurants, coffee shops, and bars. Part of this litany of names includes, Ed Riley, at The Smokehouse, the folks at Blanches Bistro, and at Trax Coffee. Javelin Guildford at the Secret Garden ll. Yalem Kiros at Nabs, a beautiful spirit in this new scene on Main Street. (She is pictured above.) Moe Deloach’s bead on the rosary is one of the large ones, not only for his restaurant, grill/bar but because he is a prism of light in Rocky Mount. (Click Here to explain what a prism of light is about)
Larema Coffe House has become a friend to everyone that passes through the door. Larema posted a wonderful tribute to Troy Davis on their Facebook page. “Our featured community partner of color this week is Troy Davis, Owner of The Davis Property Group! Local entrepreneur and Rocky Mount native, Troy is a visionary leader who is taking charge in the effort to breathe new life and beauty into many historic commercial properties and houses across our city. While many people talk about building a better community, Troy is literally doing it! A Larema friend and supporter since before our opening, we share Troy’s vision for a renewed vibrancy in historic downtown Rocky Mount – and believe in the many benefits this can have for the whole community. Of his many projects, Troy is particularly excited to soon open the Davis Lofts just around the corner from Larema on Main Street, a historic building preservation and renovation project which will bring more than 20 gorgeous new apartments and a restaurant downtown for all to enjoy. Also, Troy purchased the Carleton House last week, with plans to bring accommodations, a restaurant, conference spaces and a pool to the former 1960s-era motor lodge also located downtown. Troy, thank you for all you do to make Rocky Mount an even better place to live, work and play!”
LAREMA: We’re open in Rocky Mount and Wilson! Weekend hours are as follows-RM: Friday and Saturday, 8am-4pm; Waffle Sunday 9am-4pm
Developer Troy Davis has been working to transform three side-by-side buildings in the 100 block of Southeast Main Street into the future Davis Lofts. When completed there will be 22 high-quality upstairs apartments, four ground-level storefronts for businesses, and a rooftop deck. City Council approved $300,000 in Housing Incentive Grant Program funds for his project. Davis’s overall purpose is to attract young professionals. People living downtown ‘above the store’ is a proven concept in the Main Street Programs that surround Rocky Mount: Elizabeth City, Goldsboro, New Bern, Tarboro. The addresses of the three buildings are, 143, 147 and 149 Southeast Main. Some are leased already. The ramifications of this project will far exceed the grant money involved. Davis said, “The reason I chose to redevelop locations downtown is that the heart of Rocky Mount has great architecture and I want to be part of that.” An article in the Telegram by Bill West said that City records say the private investment in the project totals at least $1.75 million. Those records state that a condition of the funding via the city calls for three of the 22 units to be set aside for affordable housing. A condition that illustrates a lack of understanding of the ‘Living Above The Store’ concept in downtown revitalizations. CLICK HERE: Further information about this project.
A project Ben Braddock is leading is the transformation of the former Music City & Lights — at 131 and 135 Southeast Main. Soon to be a combination of upstairs residential and ground-level commercial development. The former Music City & Lights location highlights the work of Andrew Clark and Nicole Kleinstreuer from the Raleigh-Durham area. Watch for Part 2 – Follow this Blog so you don’t miss it.
Jay at The Secret Garden creating beautiful floral arrangements and wreaths like this one. A Magical Place on Tarboro St.
I have taken photographs of this building on Main Street many times because it is one of my favorite. On life support, I’ve been sitting by the bedside, so to speak, keeping a close watch on the patient growing weaker. These are classic commercial facades, and when restored to health, will be two more stars in Main Street’s crown. Work has begun! Andre Knight, the physician on the case, has taken charge. It is an amen moment for Main Street. The restoration of the numerous buildings under Mr. Knights’s care is a heavy caseload, but I like him best in this role as the doctor saving lives. It’s important work, and done right, will leave a legacy among the other ‘repairers of the breach’ that will be remembered with thanksgiving.
“You can ignore a piece of sculpture or a painting hung on the walls of the Art Institute, but architecture is the inescapable art.”
Blair Kamain, architecture critic of the Chicago Tribune
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.
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.
The first time I went to Rocky Mount Mills I met Eddie Belk, a man with a gleam in his eye. I looked the word, gleam,up and found one of the definitions that suited Eddie to a tee: a facial expression that denotes happiness, amusement, or knowledge of a secret. This expression was about Rocky Mount Mills. Eddie is an Architect/Engineer: G. Edwin Belk Architects. (At that time David Cera was the project architect) Eddie is an architect with a passion for preservation, restoration, and repurposing as evidenced throughout the mill. I’m sorry my iPhone camera can’t do justice to the art and beauty that has been recreated.
Rocky Mount Mills began the process of redevelopment in 2014 when Capitol Broadcasting Company purchased roughly 300,000 square feet of mill factory buildings. The mill itself has been turned into lofts, office, and event space. The approximately 100 historical homes in the mills’ village have been updated and are available to rent. In 2019, the River and Twine hotel opened on the campus, a collection of 20 boutique tiny house hotels. The next phase of development is Goat Island on the Tar River, which will offer public access to hiking trails, sandy beaches, and paddling sports.
Eddie Belk did know a secret and now we are the beneficiaries of this happy place. “Architecture is a fine art, a social art, placing buildings in the context of the politics, the economics, and the cultural forces that shape them.” – Blair Kamin, Chicago Tribune Architecture Critic
You know me well enough to know that I expect to find good things and therefore, I do. Meet Ryan Boone, Commercial 1 Construction. Look at the plans on the floor for Prime Smokehouse. It’s underway and I got a peek in the door where the kitchen will be. Along with Ryan there was Dexter Park, Project Mgr. Just clone these two extroverted, happy, friendly guys and the world will be better for it. They love what they are doing, and the place where they are creating a new space. Seems to me Ryan and Dexter are cut out of the same architecture world as Eddie Belk; they show their happiness, amusement, and have knowledge of a secret that is coming true soon.
Commercial 1 Construction – 919-977-4570 – www,c1cnc.com
I tend to romanticize things on Main Street…..I offer no apology. This tendency explains how I came to believe there is a Band of Brothers changing the scene in historic downtown. I love meeting and writing about individuals from various walks of life and backgrounds investing their time and resources. It is these people saving and repurposing Rocky Mount’s commercial architecture who provide a necessary economic driver.
When Troy White’s building came tumbling down in an 80 mile an hour wind, it felt like someone slapped me upside the head with some of the comments left on Concerned Citizens; a group of important voices who try to serve as watchmen on the tower. While reading, I thought, “Wait a minute, this isn’t right!” What happened to ’We few, we happy few, we band of brothers?’ -from a speech in Shakespeare’s Henry V.
The King proclaims….But we in it shall be remember’d;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother…
As fate would have it, Troy and the team arrived an hour before the storm hit. They were there to assess the next steps in bringing the building back to life. Engineers were involved with the necessary procedures to save the building. Then the wind took the structure into its own hands. Troy White, has already demonstrated how vested he is in the mission of saving downtown’s future. He could have used some support that at least said, “Your loss is our loss.” For the record, Mr. White paid for any and all clean up that was necessary. There are now design plans in the works for a new building, which will be sensitive to the continuity of the historic downtown setting.
When we lost this building, I was certain of the downtown Band of Brothers. They would offer help. Maybe drop water bottles off because of the heat. They would bring encouragement with their ‘one for all’ attitude, perhaps bring a push broom or shovel? With little, if any, sign of these Brothers, coupled with the comments that followed, we are damn lucky Troy White didn’t give us the famous Duke basketball gesture when opponents foul out – – SEE YA
This ‘all for one’ attitude is imperative. Everyone who is involved in creating the new emerging downtown scene deserves respect and shall have a turn leading the Main Street Parade. If you doubt the necessity of this investment money, think about the majority vote on the City Council who have served 20 years or more. Under their watch, statistics show a decline in homeownership, a loss of jobs, higher crime, and commercial and residential housing boarded up and deteriorating.
We need individuals who are vested in the historic collection of architecture on Main Street, and beyond. The real issue behind the smokescreen-cry of racism, is the “My Will Be Done” agenda. Anyone that does not support this agenda will have to endure intimidation, the threat of losing a job, actually losing that job, or threats concerning their businesses. People are hired and fired according to their willingness to serve this agenda. It is no longer a carefully held secret. The names of the usual suspects are spoken every day. Should you need further evidence of what this so-called leadership has accomplished, go, and look at the shameful decline in the neighborhoods. It is obvious that nothing comes from nothing. It is new investment that is saving Main Street.
It may be a Chicago thing, but are you familiar with the expression, no tickey, no washey? There is an economic imperative at stake here. Vested individuals are essential. Those profiting from the “My Will” agenda have tried to sabotage the word investor. “These ‘carpetbaggers’ are taking away what belongs to us.” Don’t believe that for a moment. Instead, believe that all those vested in building a future for Rocky Mount deserve our thanks and prayers.
The “My will Agenda” is the real issue. The plan we already have, bought and paid for, doesn’t support “The Agenda,” so we need a new one. The Main Street program is dismissed for the same reason. Think about The Carlton House that was sabotaged for the sake of a new hotel and parking garage. Does anyone doubt that the usual people will line their pockets with that deal? The Band of Brothers faces this agenda every day. If these people would accept the notion that alone we can do so little, but together, accomplish so much. it is a reality that should be embraced. We need black and white-owned businesses scattered throughout the historic downtown. Together, the obstacles that the agenda mandates can be addressed.
When I read the erroneous remarks from the City Council meeting that keep declaring there is no difference between Main Street Accreditation and Affiliate, I repeat, there is a difference, dagnabbit! An Affiliate status has resources that help new communities get started with this successful program, BUT, Accreditation comes along later when you submit the yearly paperwork proving that you are following and achieving the Programs guidelines. If that is accomplished and you are given accreditation status, you become eligible for grants that affiliation cannot participate in. No accreditation, no money. If you missed my recent blog about this subject, CLICK HERE
In March I attended the NC Main Street Program in New Bern, NC. Kevin Harris was the only one from our City Government. I met the whole planning and development staff of other counties. City Managers attended. CLICK HERE for the post I wrote -We’re On The Road to New Bern.
This isn’t the TV show, Kids Say The Darndest Things. It is the reality show on City Council where those who are committed to the MY WILL BE DONE agenda make no room for this valuable and proven program to assist cities in reinvigorating historic downtown. To insist that there is no difference between an affiliate designation and an accredited status hopes you aren’t that interested in the first place or likely to give much thought to what losing our accreditation may have cost us. It isn’t that the MY WILL BE DONE agenda doesn’t know better, they don’t want you to know better. Here is what you hear.
“But it seems to me there’s really not a big difference between being accredited and affiliate”, Knight said.“And plus all the work that we are currently doing downtown and what we are proposing to do downtown, I think would be more than an A-plus once these projects come into fruition.” The City Manager said, “I agree with you., the paper seemed to have been hung up on accreditation versus affiliation when, in fact, there’s really no difference at all.” This is wrong.
Here is the point of accreditation and what it means to have lost ours.
“Accredited communities are eligible for occasional funding opportunities through the National Main Street Center, that are only available to accredited communities, such as the National Park Service Main Street Façade Improvement Grant program that Lenoir, Elkin, and Elizabeth City received – $46,000 each for façade improvements in downtown; the Grills Fund for COVID recovery initiatives, that New Bern received; and from time to time, other opportunities that may arise. Accredited communities are eligible for awards, like the Great American Main Street award. Goldsboro was a runner up for this award a few years ago and it is a national recognition. Goldsboro received another grant for around $35,000. Again – only accredited communities are eligible.” —Elizabeth (Liz) H. Parham, Director, NC Main Street
To think that the City of Rocky Mount continues to be in the hands of but a few. What a power trip it must be to know that MY WILL BE DONE continues without a judgment day, allowing the MY WILL agenda to continue on. For this, we are facing immeasurable damage to our reputation, credit ratings; bullying, and deflection go on. If only our lost accreditation were a single problem before us. Alas, there is much more.
I often leave comments on the Concerned Citizens Facebook Page. Like all of us, the page has its good days and bad. Some comments have more clarity than others. I have no trouble making room for diverse opinions as long as they are well stated, no swearing or name-calling. I will admit that my reaction can vary if that line is crossed in this public forum. You could find me talking to myself, saying, “Give me a break!” or “What???” or in plain speak — “Man, you gotta get a life.”
I have an on-going struggle with what it means to be complicit. I’ll read something, weigh its merits, consider my past experience with the writer, and then decide if saying nothing makes me complicit in the matter. Sometimes it is easy, Stepheny,let it go. When I determine, this cannot stand, I write.
“What about the May Graham buildings or the Carlton House, or any other structures Jesse Gerstl and gang owns. It was great at first thinking he was going to fix something which turned into 2 years of the buildings getting “worser” as you call it. Jesse Gerstl was allowed to buy many of these properties knowing he had no money or intention to fix any of it up. The only thing we got out of the hoarding of money in our downtown was a coffee house; had it not been for the owner of the coffee house we wouldn’t have that.”
In this instance, I know, admire and applaud, Jesse Gerstl. This post is written in appreciation of him and is also my reply to the Concerned Citizen who was good enough to weigh in with the above comment. This blog post is neither written in anger nor denying others their opinions. I, however, have personal knowledge that Jesse wears a Superman’s cloak hidden under a tee shirt, part of his regular attire.
Larema Coffee Shop is located on the opposite corner in the Five Points area. A success story of what the revitalization of our historic downtown district will look like. A building Jesse bought and renovated with his heart for preservation and his ability to see things not as they are but could be. I can’t think of a greater place for the community to enjoy. A repurposed First National Bank Building that now welcomes everyone in a setting that only Main Street can provide. People love it, and why not with as fine a young man as you could hope for, Kevin McLaughlin presiding over his dream.
MACHAVEN, restored, and saved. In acquiring this property, Jesse stopped everything to save this grand architectural gem. Click Here to read an earlier post that includes photographs. The crown jewel, as they say, in the Villa Place Historic District, Machaven is surrounded by an outstanding inventory of residential homes, a walkable distance to downtown. This is a gift to the community that holds many memories of this historic home. I have lost count of how many shotguns and other small homes he has undertaken.
Saved for last, The Carlton House. I have never heard Jesse moan or groan over the obstacles placed before him by our City Government as it pertains to the Carlton House or any project. That’s because he is a good man. I fail the test in this category. I am appalled at the loss of this opportunity and deliberate dragging of feet to thwart him in these efforts. “Oh, ghee that $14,000 grant money must have gotten lost on my desk.” I am fortunate to have seen the plans for this significant asset while touring the property with Jesse.
What we have here is a haphazard, arbitrary, unprioritized approach to planning. The latest scheme rather than recognizing a pivotal piece in the Main Street puzzle. We now know why the Carleton House was sabotaged. Presented as a fait ac·com·pli., we have a single-source bid again as the results of a trip to Florida by the City Manager. The rationale, we’ve never had a hotel in Edgecombe County. Oh, and a zillion-dollar parking garage while we are at it. There are no substantial statistics to prove need, probable success, necessary occupancy to even hope to make a go of it. And, of course, how are the usual suspects going to make any money out of The Carlton House. You wonder how many investors have been run off because there is no attempt to work towards a win-win outcome for the city and the investor. Jesse and others like him, deserve our gratitude and support for the restoration and repurposing of Main Street. We have councilmen serving beyond their usefulness who have done little to protect Main Street except where it suits them and their cronies. It is shameful.