Plans are being set to revitalize a depressed area of downtown New Bern called Five Points. The project would create local jobs, and attract new businesses to the area.
Thousands of people visit downtown New Bern each year to tour Tryon Palace, see the birthplace of Pepsi, and dine at the many restaurants. But forty years ago, downtown New Bern was on the decline. Businesses were leaving, people were without jobs, and the area resembled something of a ghost town with dozens of vacant buildings. Go there today, and downtown New Bern is a vibrant and busy part of town. That’s due to revitalization efforts from the City of New Bern, and local non-profits. Now, these visionaries are turning their efforts to another section of downtown.
"There is the largest concentration of poverty in a four county area. many of the people don't have cars, many don't have a high school education."
City officials and organizations helping with the effort hope the redevelopment of an area in downtown, known as Five Points will transform the community, and spur economic growth in a depressed section of New Bern.
"when I was growing up, this was like a strip, and it had restaurant, clothing store, shoe stores, right next door was a garage you know, you had a theater. It was bustling."
Verona Bryant grew up in Five Points. She remembers businesses moving out of the area during the 70's.
"They need to do something to this area, to bring more business to the city of New Bern."
The New Bern Gateway Renaissance Plan has been in the works for three years… but only recently received the green light to move forward with the first stages of development. Helping with the effort is the nonprofit Swiss Bear Downtown Development Corporation. They assisted the city's Development Services with creating two urban design plans, which were approved by the Board of Aldermen on January 8th. Executive Director of Swiss Bear Susan Moffit Thomas says the Plan looks at a large area from Lawson Creek park to the railroad tracks that run thru Hancock Street in downtown.
"Five points is an area that needs a lot of help from the private sector as well as local government. and so the plan was approved in January, Development Services has put together a work plan, and that will be presented to our board next week at our board meeting. And from that, we will look at projects that we can be actively be involved in to help the city move this area forward."
A 170,000 dollar planning grant provided funding for developing the New Bern Gateway Renaissance Plan, which will facilitate the cleanup and redevelopment of Five Points. Thomas says some of the projects include streetscape design, rebuilding the McCarthy Square fountain, and an African American Museum.
"The plan looks at improving housing. The city has a lot of vacant housing throughout that area where affordable housing could be developed. We're going to partner with Habitat for Humanity and other groups."
The abandoned Days Inn hotel on Broad Street would be demolished and a community center would be built in its place. It would include a library and other resources to serve the Five Points community, according to Director of Development Services Jeff Ruggieri.
"but also use it for continuing education, to get information on health care, maybe get some health care provided, to kind of become an entrepreneurial center for that area. A lot of the redevelopment, a lot of people focus on buildings, streets and everything but this plan is focused on people also."
New retail spaces are also part of the development plan. Though Ruggieri didn't mention any specific stores, he did say there is a market for an additional 50,000 square feet of retail space in Five Points.
"And also a very strong market for a smaller type full service grocery store of about 30,000 square feet that can be supported in there over the coming years. So what we're focusing on the Broad Street corridor as the commercial corridor."
Many Five Points residents don’t have cars, so they walk to the closest grocery store is more than a mile away. The new retail space could create job opportunities.
"when you're looking at a grocery store, you're looking through the whole life span of the grocery store. From start to finish, you're probably looking at 150, 200 jobs. But, in the end, a 30,000 square foot grocery store, i really don't know, maybe 60 or 70 jobs for just that one. It could be more."
Ruggieri says they are working with private sector partners and other businesses that want to relocate or expand to Five Points. For the most part, businesses that are already in Five Points welcome the new development. Verona Bryant is a cashier with Jamaica in the South, a Caribbean restaurant on Broad Street.
"if there's more business in this area, then that means there's more consumers in the area. And we'll get more customers."
As the New Bern Gateway Renaissance Plan starts to move forward, Development Services and the board of commissioners will work on policy changes that will allow development. Ruggieri says they're also looking for funding sources, such as grants, for the many of the projects.
"We are actively working on securing the land for the fountain, we are actively looking for a user for the grocery store. A chain that wants to come here."
He says it may take years before New Bern residents start to see physical changes.
"redevelopment takes a lot longer. people really need to have some patience. Things change but not at the same pace but not as fast as areas where there is no existing development. But really, this redevelopment plan is a twenty year plan. and that's probably being nice. There's provably things in there that will take thirty years to do."
When the project nears completion, Ruggieri believes Five Points could, once again, become the new center for the city of New Bern. Jared Brumbaugh, Public Radio East.