William West wrote, “The City of Rocky Mount appears to be interested in having the words “Black Lives Matter” painted on the roof of an old railroad track-side loading dock on the northeastern side of downtown.” This is a perfect example of what Benjamin Franklin meant when he said, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!”
The existing Central City Revitalization Panel (CCRP) composed of City residents, leaders of community organizations, and members of the business community, served as a steering committee for the Ratio Plan. For that trouble, it remains in a drawer. Unless the Historic Preservation Committee and the Central Revitalization Committeehave lost their minds, I guarantee neither group has been consulted about this matter. They who are charged with protecting guidelines of the downtown historic district and the Central Revitalization Committee, who are in the trenches working for the downtown businesses…… must approve!
This is another mistake for which no one on the Council or City Management will pay for. Yet again, an arbitrary idea to take advantage of the current political unrest in the country. Seize the day, and the monument to our history is gone. Seize the day, and paint Black Lives Matter on a historic structure. The basis – a mob of haters of the United States who have been encouraged and left free to loot and destroy.
This old railroad structure is not an inconvenient obstacle! This message, seen by people who pass through Rocky Mount on the train, who now are able to see the new emerging scene downtown, is short-sighted. I thought ‘Come let us reason together’ was the mantra to achieve harmony and move forward together. The two groups cited above better get their heads in gear in order to use their influence to save us from ourselves. I leave you with an interview with Shelby Steele of The Hoover Institute on the matter of Black Lives Matter. Though a Fox News interview might give you pause, think of the interview happening where ever you like. Just give his insights a go. Click on Link:
FYI: In 2016, the City of Rocky Mount moved forward with the preparation of a Downtown Plan spurred on by the anticipation of development following the announcement of the Rocky Mount Event Center (RMEC) and the area’s high development potential. As the effort began, the City realized that the most effective tool to guide and incentivize future development would be specific implementation strategies. The strategies contained in the Plan have a primary focus on the vicinity of the RMEC in the Northeast Quadrant.
“Architecture has its own realm. It has a special physical relationship with life… a sensitive container for the rhythm of footsteps on the floor, for the concentration of work, for the silence of sleep.”
Peter Zumthor, Thinking Architecture
I think of the rustic charm of exposed brickwork in buildings as art. The colors and textures of exposed masonry add a unique character to any structure. If you have not had the pleasure of placing your hand on a brick wall, next time one calls to you, do it! A quick story about touching: My youngest son by misdeed was asked to stay home from school a day. It was an opportunity to take him downtown to the Chicago Art Institute where the famous lion sculptures stand guard. He wanted to touch whatever he looked at. (He comes by that rightly, I’m a toucher.) More than once the museum guide in a gallery cleared his throat as a warning, don’t touch. What was to be a day of punishment was far better spent on Michigan Avenue in the midst of glorious architecture. All these years later, I touch brick walls, and that grown son has a son of his own who both touch my heart.
I can never resist telling a story, but some information too. A brick is building material used to make walls, pavements, and other elements in masonry construction. Traditionally, the term brick referred to a unit composed of clay, but it is now used to denote rectangular units made of clay-bearing soil, sand, and lime, or concrete materials. Bricks can be joined together using mortar, adhesives, or by interlocking them. Bricks are produced in numerous classes, types, materials, and sizes which vary with region and time period, and are produced in bulk quantities. Two basic categories of bricks are fired and non-fired bricks.
Bricks were made by hand until about 1885. Once the Industrial Revolution broke out, the brickmaking machinery was introduced. Consequently, the number of clays that could be made into brick was greatly increased which influenced the production capacity. Handmade brick production ranged up to 36,000 bricks per week but by 1925 a brickmaking machine made 12,000 bricks a day
After I wrote the blog about PLAN B, letting Woda Cooper Companies repurpose one of our old buildings for low-income housing, I wrote a letter to the Telegram. They published it on Tuesday. Nobody told me that the paper has been on a diet. Something else we better talk about here on Main Street. It’s on the list, but we have other fish to fry now. Please leave a comment at the bottom of the blog if you like the idea of PLAN B as a viable alternative to Section 8 housing in the wrong place. This isn’t a very sexy post, sorry, but the proposal as it stands now has LONG TERM CONSEQUENCES that are costly. Add your voice and influence to stopping this costly mistake. Skip to paragraph 3 of the letter if you’ve read the blog.
The City Council has approved Woda Cooper Companies (WCC) as “development partners” for construction of “workforce housing” on Tarboro Street, across from Edgecombe Community College. WCC has experienced developers, general contractors, and property managers specializing in design, construction, and management. They have accomplished an impressive body of work. While their online presence leaves a highly favorable impression, it is the insistence on the location for this housing that is questionable, short-sighted and leaves us shaking our heads, again. Woda Cooper can accomplish Plan B for Rocky Mount, which is the right answer for this housing the Council has decided comes before other issues like infrastructure.
WCC repurposes old buildings for low-income housing. Visit their website to read about success stories in other cities. For example, in order to create affordable places to live in downtown Cleveland, Woda Cooper bought the 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.
Members of the City Council and the City Manager decided that this housing must be located downtown, disregarding the current research that says the edges of a Main Street Downtown District need protection from exactly this kind of haphazard planning. This location is in direct conflict with the new emerging Main Street, ECC, and the economic drivers that support downtown businesses. Someone is looking to make money off this project but it will not be the businesses that are a priority in our safekeeping. Rather than plunk this housing cluster in the wrong location, let these ‘development partners’ help us find an appropriate commercial building and repurpose it for workforce housing. However, repurposing a building must keep the integrity of our historic facades intact, adding seamlessly to the historic downtown. This power struggle is not over the need for this housing or welcoming its residence into the life of the new scene downtown, but it is all about location, location, location. I alone, having a temper tantrum in the middle of Main Street, isn’t enough. We need your voice and sphere of influence behind Plan B.
Years ago I sat under a white tent that covered the invited guests to a rehearsal dinner. Much to the dismay of those of us who were older, the toasts by so called friends turned into a roast of the groom. “I remember the night you were drunk and knocked on my door at 2:00 AM.” It went down hill from there. My reaction: how will this couple make it with friends like this, no talk of love, respect, or support? The marriage didn’t make it.
A few days ago I wrote on the new Facebook page by the same name as this blog – Main Street Rocky Mount- about the renovated building located on Sorsby’s Place at 116/118 Sunset Avenue. 118 has been leased to Better Blends Juice and Smoothie Bar. James Silver & Kydeem Vaughan plan to be open early Spring. (Check out Better Blends FB page to learn more.) You are going to love the concept, the location, and Kydeem Vaughn, who is pictured on the FB page, along with James Silver, pictured here. They are the co-owners of this new business.
I went to the Goat Bottle Shoppe at the mill the other evening for a gathering that sipped delicious samples of what is on the horizon for everyone when the store opens. I know it is going to be a successful business. The reason I know this is because everyone who came to support James & Kydeem were lovely, enthusiastic, friendly and believe in James and Kydeem. The partners have a lot of love under their wings that will create a happy place for customers to enjoy. Kydeem and James are part of the new reality on Main Street. They have planted their flag along with a growing number of Repairers of the Breach. A designation I give to those who are investing, renovating, repurposing, preserving, saving Main Street and Surrounds. You too can be a Repairer by your attitude, positivity, supporting the new businesses that are opening, and enjoying the new Main Street scene. Follow this blog and the FB page to read about what’s happening.
I’m looking forward to this Members Only opportunity: People interested in the preservation of our architectural inventory will be gathering in this special place that is alive and well again. Machaven: A crown jewell in the community. You may join on line or at the event tonight to attend. #20.00 per year.
Tonight is the first Members Only Preservation Rocky Mount Meeting of 2020. The meeting is from 6 PM-8 PM. The location is The Historic MacHaven House at 306 S.Grace St., Rocky Mount, NC.
We encourage all members to attend this meeting, as this one sets the tone for the new year! If you are not a member, please visit our website at https://www.preservationrockymount.org/become-a-member and join. Membership opportunities will also be available tonight at this event.
All memberships are annual and offer loads of benefits that last all year. Single annual memberships are a one time fee of $20, and couples are $30.
Preservation Rocky Mount will be providing light refreshments.
Parking instructions are: On the Park Avenue side of the house you’ll see wrought iron gates leading to a driveway up to The Machaven. You can park there and it accommodates at least 10 cars. There is a grassy lot to the left of the wrought iron gates that can handle overflow as well as ample street parking.
“Persistence can change failure into extraordinary achievement.”
I’ve told you the story of being taken to the Shubert Theater in Chicago as a little girl to see the stage play, Peter Pan. In one scene Tinker Bell’s light is fading and Jean Arthur, who plays Peter, steps to the edge of the stage pleading with the audience to save Tinker.- If you believe, clap your hands. As only a little girl can when captured in the moment, I clapped as hard as I could. I have asked you to do the same when believing in the revitalization of Rocky Mount. I will admit there are times my own light dims when I face the obstacles to grace in saving Main Street! Living life as a Pollyanna does give me the energy to pick myself up and BELIEVE again.
When it comes to news about changes for downtown, it is difficult for people to shed their skepticism. They have been let down, disappointed, darn right mad, felt powerless and paying taxes on things they oppose. The state of our political insanity today has brought us to the fact that if President Donald Trump cured cancer there would be a human cry that he ignored Alzheimer’s. We must be careful not to have the same kind of unexamined response to the city’s announced shift in word and deed towards downtown. I attended the workshop where Kevin Harris, City Business Development Director, presented this material written up in the Telegram on May 26th. If you missed this fine reporting, here is the link – The City focuses on Downtown
I refuse to dismiss out of hand this declaration of renewed interest and help for Main Street because of past disappointments. It is exactly what I and others have been asking, cajoling, shaming, pleading and praying for. A return to enforcing ordinances evenly across the board, streamlining paperwork, turning in itemized bills before payment of grant money. The reinstatement of the ‘demolition by neglect ordinance’ is key here. The city has put some teeth behind this declaration of intent with three outstanding hires to steward this huge effort to pick up where the Varney years left off, support these wonderful investors and new businesses, dreamers and economic drivers that are the new Rocky Mount. Remember, the journey is an inch at a time, and we must support the inch that is being offered and BELIEVE.
However, you spent this past Tuesday, it wasn’t as much fun as what I got up to. I attended a Historic Tax Credit and Main Street Seminar at the Booker T. Theater. If that doesn’t make you weak in the knees, I don’t know what else to suggest. I mean a discussion about breathable and unbreathable paint! Looking at slides of historical old homes with moisture damage and termites? Kevin Harris gave us information about types of available Downtown Rocky Mount Building Assistance Programs. Peter Varney talked and led a tour of the Douglas Block area that was filled with valuable Varney first-hand information and an incredible institutional memory. Naomi Riley presented the Main Street Program in the afternoon which we’ll talk about another time.”It was a Way Cool! day.”
Good News: New city Business and Downtown Development Coordinator David Wise, one of three new hires for the City, devised this workshop as part of celebrating Preservation month. You are going to enjoy knowing and benefiting from David’s expertise. He is an idea man. You will have to catch hold of his shirttail to restrain him or else let him take you up into the atmosphere of exciting possibilities for Main Street’s future. Will Deaton, Director of Development Services and Stephanie Goodrich, Senior Planner, complete the trinity of accomplished, educated, focused professionals who have hit the track running. They are great additions to the Saving Main Street efforts. Hallelujah.
The seminar featured Reid Thomas, a restoration specialist with the State Historic Preservation Office. Besides paint and termites and moisture damage, he spoke about historic preservation incentives at the state and federal levels. He is a valuable resource with endless advice in downtown preservation efforts.
The Important Stuff: There is a 20 percent federal tax credit and a 15 percent state tax credit for rehabilitating commercial or income-producing properties. The state will offer a 5 percent bonus if the property is in a county that the state Commerce Department considers economically distressed. Nash and Edgecombe counties are on that list. A 5 percent bonus if the property has industrial structures that have been at least 65 percent vacant for two years. You are looking at a 35 to 45 percent tax credit, a large saving.
People can spread out the federal and state credits over time. The property needs to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places, either individually or in a historic district. The property also needs to meet standards set by the federal secretary of the interior. As for residences, homeowners may receive a 15 percent state tax credit for rehabilitating non-income-producing properties. This is a ‘once over lightly’ summation of the seminar, and there will be more opportunities like this in the future. It’s a good day when I learn something new. I intend to learn more about the world of historic tax credits, so important in preservation efforts. There is room for you in all of this. Join me.
Preservation Rocky Mount had a walking tour this morning in the Edgemont Historic District and I had a fantasy come true. I stayed behind in a comfortable wicker chair on the front porch of the D.J. Rose house belonging to Jean Bailey at 800 Tarboro St. I’ve written about this special home several times. It was all mine for an hour!
Wrap around sound: a chorus of vocal birds sang with abandonment. Several solo parts were cooed by morning doves. There was a problem without a conductor to keep time and cue the various parts when it was their turn. You know how an orchestra sounds when warming up before a performance; all the instruments playing their own notes? The bird concert went mad with sound but without sheet music. Still, it was glorious. I even managed to fall asleep missing some of the performance. I must speak to someone next time to prevent the whoosh of tires on pavement that dashed across the Tarboro Street stage.
The walking tour returned, full of a new appreciation for this special location, and with knowledge about roof lines and architectural styles. Lovely people with an appreciation for the story of the neighborhood, its people, it’s future. I didn’t say anything about the free choral concert they missed or reveling on the beautiful front porch with a short nap. Instead, I gathered the experience to take with me to revisit in my mind when needed. There is a matching wicker chair and if you promise not to talk, I’ll invite you to join me should there be another occasion.
There are subtle design details that have a powerful ability to make a building look or feel “right” in a certain area. Context tells us whether a design fits in and guides our decisions. We want a city’s buildings to share some regional characteristics that make a place a place. -Joe Bucher, AIA
Urban infill is city planning lingo for development in areas that are already built up. These projects have fewer costs attached to them because of existing infrastructure and are already serviced by transit, shops, and food.
When it comes to a downtown like ours and older neighborhoods, preservation today is engaged in questions of how to respect the past while fostering development to fill in the gaps. Urban ‘infill’ is a topic we need to be smart about if we are to preserve the continuity of our Main Street buildings that are significant when telling Rocky Mount’s story; when offering people a place to live that has a sense of place. Preserving this continuity is key to this kind of development.
Again, we will turn to New Orlean’s for infill Preservation inspiration. Deftly tucked into a narrow former parking lot on a densely occupied business district street, the new Cambria Hotel represents a successful approach to urban infill in a historic district. The project transformed an empty space into a handsome and vibrant hotel building. Thoughtful design and careful planning took care to recognize the scale and context of the surrounding neighborhood, utilizing a simple palette of materials commonly found in the district that is respectful of the mix of historic buildings and converted warehouses around it. (Please reread these highlighted sentences just short of memorization.)
Infill can be added to an existing structure, become a new layer over the old, placed on an irregular shaped site, or it can fill an abandoned lot. This infill will include mixed-use and multi-functional purpose to a site or building, promoting different uses at different times.
Compatibility of this infill with the overall design strategy should always be a strong goal focused on integration with the surrounding area. Infill should not overpower nearby buildings. Successful infill projects are those that go unnoticed; apparent only upon examination. These simple, but vital requirements for any planned infill in the downtown historic district of Rocky Mount must include sensitive and respectful attention to the surrounding architecture.
Let us look to New Orleans for preservation inspiration with this trio of mid-19th-century buildings that sat vacant for decades. Even in their key location, the buildings suffered the indignities of leaking roofs, rotting floors, and termites. This situation sounds familiar to us on Main Street.
**Constructed in 1858 during the city’s booming antebellum years, this visually united row of three four-story masonry stores stood for decades as dismal reminders of the bad things that happened to downtowns in the 1960s. Neglected, unused and failing structurally, the buildings overlooked a vast parking lot. Taking advantage of the economic benefits of federal historic rehabilitation tax credits and the Preservation Resource Center’s façade easement program, the developers crafted a successful mixed-use development of 16 spacious apartments and three ground-floor commercial spaces. The new development is called 419 Carondelet.(This same concept is being developed here.)
The same successful preservation and repurposing of buildings can be ours. We thank the investors who have embraced the promise of Rocky Mount and will not be deterred. Read about: A hallelujah chorus of bright, young entrepreneurs that have come home. We have a newly energized, emboldened citizenry that will be voting this fall and will prevail. I believe the investigation will bring justice and remove the obstacles of mismanagement and corruption that have prevailed. Our word and agreements with ECC will be restored. There will be no public housing sited on Tarboro Street.
Before long, we will have photographs of our own newly restored and repurposed buildings to brag about. Ours can be the most beautiful Main Street in North Carolina. PLUS – Our existing affordable housing will be saved, restored, and safe to live in again. I hope you will join me with an AMEN! to that.
**Information about 419 Carondelet came from the article – Honoring Top Historic Preservation Projects in New Orleans • Hillary S. Irvin, Sally Reeves, and Michael Duplantier • April 2019, Preservation in Print. I subscribe to this excellent magazine and follow their Facebook Page, an endless source of delight and research.