If Responsible City Leadership Welcomes Private Development – You’ve Got A Hit Song On Your Hands

Above The Store in New Bern, NC

Where responsible city leadership welcomes private development, the results have been fantastic. By working together for ‘a yes solution’ in their dealings with private investors, downtowns are saved and economic growth is stimulated.  Elizabeth City and New Bern are examples of this kind of success; revitalization at its finest. Here in Rocky Mount, it cannot be denied that the Wizards behind the curtain can still foot-drag, dilly-dallying, and make things difficult in an attempt to retain control over the downtown outcomes. A larger story has happened in spite of this.   Determined locals and an influx of creative, hard-working people will not be deterred. They are saving our commercial architecture one building at a time by repurposing them. Living Above The Store is under construction, a vital piece of the revitalization puzzle.

We’ve learned a great deal since the 1980 Urban Renewal period when terrible mistakes were made. Enough time has gone by to access what worked and didn’t. Tearing down paradise and putting up a parking lot was not the answer. A big piece of the answer is preserving a strong sense of place that is vital to the health and prosperity of a downtown. The Rocky Mount story creates a particular richness that is attracting new people while honoring the place others have always called home. 

“Research has proven that a successful revitalization must include a pedestrian-friendly, connected location with a lively environment that encourages visitors to linger and support the local economy.” Living Above The Store broadens the success of a downtown community. “A downtown with a critical mass encourages a connection to the local community because they don’t leave the area at the end of the day. They shop local, eat local and drink local—inherently helping spur the economy and foster the hip-factor of the district.”  Living downtown: a mix of people who can live nearer their jobs, are singles, married,  retired people who are sizing down and want to walk to nearby amenities. The emerging scene on Main Street Rocky Mount will include Living Above The Store. Way Cool, friends, Way Cool!

“Once you choose hope, anything’s possible.”
– Christopher Reeve  

In 2017, Scott Baldwin wrote an article called, Live-Work Units: Reasons to Include Them in Your Next Project. (Fisher, Ind.) I have quoted from his article in support of this post.   

The Emerging Scene On Main Street -Dedicated to David Joyner – A Speaker at the Main Street Conference

Living Room

“Architecture is the thoughtful making of space.”
― Louis Khan

At the Main Street Conference in New Bern, I signed up for one of the tours in order to see 3 properties, one in it’s gutted stage, and two ‘living above the store’ homes. Bill Hand wrote an article a while back about New Bern called Downtown Renaissance Took Years, Hard Work. It gives us a quick perspective applicable to Rocky Mount’s revitalization. I’ll let the comparisons speak for themselves.

Once upon a time, New Bern was a sleepy, dying river town whose waterfront was more eyesore than scenic. In 1979 Swiss Bear Downtown Development Corporation came into being and its years-long renaissance program turned the town into the tourism center it is today. A badly-run government, nepotism and a declining job market left “hundreds of people… leaving to find jobs in other places.” The city’s historic homes were also in decline with most deteriorated and some turned into apartments or low-income housing. Many of the city’s most beautiful homes were demolished. Meanwhile, the tax base continued to erode.

Open Kitchen Plan
Another View of Open Kitchen Area

By the 1960s New Bern was in an absolute crisis state and the waterfront ceased to exist. Moffat-Thomas, a mover in New Bern’s turn around said, “When I moved here people told me it was so bad that people were afraid to come downtown. The area had been abandoned and a lot of vermin were there. It was a sad place.”

One of the bedrooms
The Master Bath

Then, in the 70s, “a group of focused, bright professional people took the reins in their hands. They understood that they needed to unite and develop a plan and a consensus for moving the city forward. A 1977 central business district revitalization plan called for that development, and also called for the city to turn toward tourism and attracting retirees to the area, whose disposable income would be key to the economy. “Everybody got excited. Everybody was working hard,”

View out the MBR of the historic Episcopal Church
A wall large enough for this beautiful cabinet and glass collection

Rocky Mount has a new story to tell that is larger than the years of neglect and shenanigans we can’t deny have taken place. The emerging Main Street scene has a group of focused, bright people that have taken the reins into their hands as well. There are a lot of people excited and hard at work. The photographs I took in this second story building are to show you that living above the store isn’t about what I call “tried to and couldn’t.” Granted this home belongs in a magazine because of it’s beautiful furnishings and art but the design of the space came first.  On Main Street, there has been a lot of time and talent beneath the wings of the projects taking place that include living above the store.

Open Dining Room Space split with Living Room
Another view of the Living Room

 

Ceiling Fan on screened porch leading to deck
Outside Deck

This post is dedicated to  David Joyner, a Rocky Mount treasure, whose session I attended at the conference  Telling the Main Street Story. For me, he was the highlight of the two days with his presentation, good humor, vast knowledge, and experience. I hope he recognizes a thing or two I learned from him in this post. Thank You! Thank You!

Window on the back staircase leading down and out
Final View in leaving this beautiful space

The Emerging Scene On Main Street -‘Living Above The Store’ – Coming Soon

One of the highlights of The Main Street Conference in New Bern was the opportunity to see two gorgeous ‘living above the store’ homes. Coming soon to Main Street, we will have the same opportunity. What I saw was amazing. In this case, both places are owned by retired couples that filled their second-floor homes with a lifetime of collecting art, beautiful furniture, and southern charm. New Bern is desperate for rental and sale places in order to live downtown. This emerging scene of ours will fill an important nitch for young professionals, management that is connected to the new jobs being created, for singles, couples, retired folks and those who want to live close to their work. These ‘living above the store’ opportunities illustrate how the revitalization of Rocky Mount is unfolding: an example of preservation, restoration, and repurposing done the right way. This availability to live downtown in our historic commercial buildings is vital to saving Main Street; the name I use to include the entire downtown district. I hope the New Bern photos get you excited about the work going on downtown. The Repairers of the Breach are hard at work.

The staircase to an amazing space.
The door on the left is to the store. On the right upstairs.
Living room space
The ceiling above living room space
Beautiful floors throughout
A lovely brick arch left intact
One of the bathrooms
Bookcases along a hallway
A dining space
View out a bedroom window unto the street below

Photographs of the second ‘above the store’ living later this week.

After keeping me company on Main Street, you get it that there is something at stake here that goes beyond the obstacles to grace Main Street can encounter. This quote says it better than I can.

“The current passion for reuse might be explained by sustainability or fashion but, most importantly, it affords a sense of history and texture, taking advantage of buildings already embedded in cities. They are buildings with atmosphere, history, and stories inscribed in their fabric. And sometimes sustainability isn’t just about the energy and materials saved but about the stories, craft and intelligence embodied in its walls.”                                        -Paul Miles – The Financial Times