Preservation Rocky Mount Membership Gathers at Machaven Tonight – January 7th

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.

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Preservation Rocky Mount

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 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.

For more information about this meeting please visit our events page at

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.

The City Government Shifts Attention in Word and Deed – Downtown Incentives and Ordiances

Through concrete, a flower emerges with Persistence

“Persistence can change failure into extraordinary achievement.”
Marv Levy


Jean Arthur as Peter Pan

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.

If Historic Tax Credits Don’t Turn You On – What About Unbreathable Paint?

Booker T. Washington Theater

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.”

David Wise and Stepheny -speakers for The Professional Women’s quarterly meeting

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.

Reid Thomas, a restoration specialist

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.


Stepheny Attends a Free Choral Concert -Saturday AM – May 11th – Edgemont Historic District

800 Tarboro Street
Built by D.J. Rose

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.

These Gorgeous Photographs by Carl Lewis

Positive Change In City Leadership Will Guarantee Main Street’s Successful Outcome – ‘Urban Infill’ For Instance

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.

I hope you agree. Leave your thoughts below.




New Leadership and Justice for Rocky Mount Is At Hand – Thanks to Investors with Vision, The Reimagining and Revitalization of Main Street Is Picking Up

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.



A successful approach to urban infill 




Consulting with Thomas Sowell on Rocky Mount’s City Government

Do you ever think about your ‘unlived lives?” When I do, it is more with curiosity than with regret. What would my life have been if I had pursued other avenues? We’ve come a long way from wanting to be a fireman or a professional baseball player; a ballerina, or a doctor with our plastic doctor’s bag and stethoscope. Now, if I had the money to do so, I would take myself off to SCAD in Savannah and enroll in their courses on historic preservation.  Short of that, like you, I am self-educated in ……you fill in the blank. My list would include gardener, flower arranger, and, and, and. Now I would like to be a writer with a keen enough intellect to add my voice to the political fray on Main Street in Rocky Mount, NC.

Thomas Sowell in 1964

Therefore, I have been revisiting by reading Thomas Sowell (/soʊl/; born June 30, 1930) an American economist and social theorist who is currently a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. I couldn’t pick a better mind with my self-educated approach to local politics, joining all the others who want to Save Mainstreet and surrounding Edgemont Place and Villa Place, the neighborhoods that are waiting to play their part in affordable housing.

Mr. Sowell was born in North Carolina but grew up in Harlem, New York. Ultimately, he received a bachelor’s degree, graduating magna cum laude from Harvard University in 1958 and a master’s degree from Columbia University in 1959. In 1968, he earned his doctorate in economics from the University of Chicago.

Sowell has served on the faculties of several universities, including Cornell University and the University of California, Los Angeles. He has also worked for think tanks such as the Urban Institute. Since 1980, he has worked at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. He writes from a libertarian conservative perspective, advocating supply-side economics. Sowell has written more than thirty books. He is a National Humanities Medal recipient for an innovative scholarship that incorporated history, economics, and political science.  I have deep admiration and respect for Thomas Sowell, the reason I have been consulting with him. I state my case again that until we have the results of the investigations, the current leadership must be put on hold in any major decisions and that the low-income housing on Tarboro street is the wrong answer in the wrong place. I put forth these three Sowell quotations as justification for my position in the matter.

One of the common failings among honorable people is a failure to appreciate how thoroughly dishonorable some other people can be, and how dangerous it is to trust them. Thomas Sowell

Rocky Mount Is Being Lead Down The Yellow Brick Road Over Parking and Low-Income Housing

I have remembered the Yellow Brick Road song from the Wizard of Oz since I was a child. I used to sing it to my grandchildren when heading out in the car for an adventure. “We’re off to see the Wizard, the wonderful Wizard of Oz.” I never dreamed I would find it applicable, transpose and lift the lyrics, to describe where Rocky Mount’s City Government is trying to lead us now.  In your imagination, you can assign any face you like to the characters, Dorothy, The Scarecrow, The Tin Woodman, The Lion, and The Wizard of Oz. The good or bad witches.


Rocky Mount’s Wizard of Oz identities under investigation.


Perhaps you remember that The Wizard, who has not fulfilled his promises, is exposed when Toto pulls back a curtain, revealing that the “Wizard” is a middle-aged man operating machinery and speaking into a microphone. Play around with this for a minute and you will agree that our Wizard of Oz, who has various identities, is not fulfilling promises to the taxpayers of Rocky Mount, NC. either.


PARKING: Let us not lose sight of the February 14, 2019 Telegram article by Lindell Kay on the Downtown Parking Study. The goal of the study is to determine how best to use parking in support of downtown development, redevelopment, and revitalization. People have been in a dither about parking for The Event Center all along. How was the project allowed to be built in the first place without adequate parking in the plan? Parking on Tarboro Street became part of the answer, sited on property deemed a state environmental brownfield not safe for housing given that it was the site of a dry cleaner and was investigated by state environmental officials. The site has been reviewed and determined to be OK, but wells would not be allowed. Environmentalists question the safety of former industrial sites in connection with housing. On the Yellow Brick Road, we now find out that low-income housing would replace the Tarboro Street parking plan.

“Plans Change,” is what we’ve been told. “Parking on Tarboro was never set in concrete.” but it was the intent sold to ECC for the use of this property. Now we’ve got a proposed project map that includes two large parking garages. Titled the Douglas Entertainment and Business District, the maps show plans by Tennessee-based developer David Hunt to construct two parking decks, two hotels, a retail area, condos, a splash pad and a pedestrian bridge over busy train tracks. A five-level, 500-space parking deck is planned for behind the Event Center along Atlantic Avenue where St. John’s A.M.E. Zion Church is now. A second parking garage with 450 spaces is planned behind a retail and residential area where Tri-Faith now sits.

This is what we are being told. There is no more merrily, merrily on the yellow brick road until the investigation into the corruption and mismanagement is complete. First things first!

These new projects set off alarm bells. The current trend of graft and corruption by our own version of ‘the Wizard of Oz’ highlights new possibilities for further skullduggery. That is why nothing can go forward until the investigation of malfeasance is concluded. We must resolve the identities of those involved, and the extent of corruption by the Wizard of Oz behind the curtain.

UNDERSTAND: no one is against low-income housing! We agree on the need for parking. (Who isn’t for minimizing housing costs.) But cluster housing built on Tarboro street is the wrong solution.  More on housing tomorrow – because, because, because.




Saying NO to Tarboro Street Housing For At Least 3 Reasons


Affordable housing in historic districts and Wards should be looked at as a sustainable method of housing development. Buildings are durable commodities that can be used for decades. The addition of historic districts, which Rocky Mount has seven, into the housing equation is a win-win for the community. We already have in place guidelines that require close attention to the built environment as a whole, which helps to protect people’s investment in our housing assets. Rather than building affordable housing over on Tarboro St., plopped down in a transient setting, we want singles, renters, 1st-time homeowner, retired folks living in neighborhoods. There is affordable housing of different sizes that may not be at its best but is savable, and once restored, house by house you have a neighborhood feeling good about itself again. You have diversity, woven into the fabric of neighborhoods that have been home to our Rocky Mount story and are home again to our next chapter.


The PARKING that will be needed for a flourishing and successful Event Center, and a revitalized downtown, cannot be highjacked. Definitely not for the wrong answers to affordable housing. Evidently, there are members on the City Council and their insiders who no longer care about the needed parking, as if the success of the Event Center and Main Street no longer matter to them. This suggests to me that they have moved on to the next idea of taking what they can and leave the taxpayers with the bill. I suspect that this information meeting is a rouse to cover what they believe is a predetermined outcome. A large attendance saying no is necessary for these reasons and yours. Make the best case you can.


Taxpayers have no reason to believe the city forces will change their trend line in this latest proposal;  lining someone’s pockets, letting the taxpayers subsidize this housing.  In summary: We have a vote of no confidence in leadership, we must safeguard our parking, and pursue the right solution for affordable housing by investing in what we already have, which will restore our existing Ward neighborhoods and historic districts.

PLEASE NOTE: The location of a Tuesday information session on a planned multi-family workforce housing development on Tarboro Street has been changed.
The public meeting will now be held in McBryde Auditorium on the Rocky Mount campus of Edgecombe Community College. The time of the meeting hasn’t changed and is still set for 5 to 7 p.m.
The Development Finance Initiative at UNC-Chapel Hill’s School of Government will facilitate the session with an hourlong open house followed by a presentation and question-and-answer segment. The City Council has committed to conveying property between 218-242 Tarboro Street via sale or lease to a development partner.


The talk around town – Basketball, New Leadership and Housing

The overall #1 seed team in the tournament WINS! Well, that’s what the ladies in my story would say.  Some years ago, I drove from Chapel Hill to Durham to the beauty shop. Waiting my turn during the NCAA Tournament, I listened to four ladies talk Duke basketball. It was a Norman Rockwell moment. In their seventies, caped and facing forward, this discussion took place as they looked at each other in the mirror before them. I doubt any Duke player could have imagined this scene.  These beauty shop coaches were worthy of a Post magazine cover. Fast forward to the Road to the Final Four, 2019. It isn’t only basketball on people’s minds this week, but the necessity for new leadership for Team Rocky Mount and resistance to a few City Council members propelling us into the real estate business again.

From my end of the bench, the answer to this proposed Tarboro housing is  – – absolutely not! The information meeting on April 2, which I encourage everyone to go, is theater, the outcome already known to insiders. Despite denials, the kind of corruption which prompted demands for investigation and change in the first place is more insider dealing with a favored non-profit and them taking us to the cleaners again.

Ms. Miller asked at the City Council meeting whether the housing would be private and property tax-paying, or public and non-taxpaying. KEY in all this is that the entire premise of the event center was to use public expenditure to prompt private investment and thus raise the downtown’s tax base. With an increased tax base, the taxpayers would (theoretically, hopefully, eventually) recoup their investment. Otherwise, the spending is mere redistribution from taxpayers to recipients – – that is, welfare. The requirement for private ownership and tax-paying must be a firm part of any plan going forward with any project. Let us not forget that the city’s plan depicts that part of Tarboro St for needed parking for the Event Center and other downtown needs.

The Event Center is fabulous. Contrary to social media hyperbole, from people who have probably never darkened the door, events continue to be booked, the interior is first class. Have there been some screw-ups?  Yep. If some of the members of the City Council keep their noses out of it and let professional people run the place, it will succeed. To deliberately, knowingly, sabotage that needed parking to line more pockets, is not happening.

The folks that have been bouncing the basketball down the court creating this newest scheme that takes advantage of taxpayers, couldn’t care less about these people they claim it will help. This is not the way to go about it in the first place and has been proven. We want diverse housing, that has been soundly built, offering various square footage for different needs of a family, a single occupant, first-time buyer, retired people, not plunking people down on Tarboro street distanced from what can be a restored safe neighborhood that offers affordable opportunities for home ownership. Privately purchased by investors deteriorating houses are being turned into homes again. If this type of housing is so important why don’t some of our Wards reflect that priority? Instead, they look the same or worse than they did ten years ago? Rocky Mount needs to get out of the real estate business, enforce the ordinances and codes we have, help assist private investors by streamlining the policies and procedures regarding permits. There are people laboring in the field like Lea Henry. She gets it as well as others trying to save our housing stock and put people in safe houses they can be proud of with neighbors looking out for one another once again.  As Main Street continues to come back, we will need that parking and that’s what we shall have.

Good Luck with your favorite team this weekend