The Central City Revitalization Panel’s recent monthly meeting ultimately turned into a back-and-forth scene between panel chairman Garland Jones and director of downtown development Kevin Harris.
The reason was whether the coronavirus pandemic was a factor in Rocky Mount’s main street revitalization program having yet to achieve accreditation status. Not only that, but Jones also spoke, based on his investigations, of what he uncovered behind the scenes.
The Telegram reported on July 7 that the State Department of Commerce’s recent annual list of Main Street programs recognized as accredited — that is, those at the highest level — again showed that the program Rocky Mount’s Main Street had failed. As a result, Rocky Mount’s Main Street program continues to be affiliated.
During the August 11 CPRC meeting, the final part of the agenda included Harris providing updates on the status of the Rocky Mount Main Street program and what would be needed for the program to return to the accredited status.
Just before Harris did, Barden Winstead Jr., who is a financial adviser and a new panel member, told him, “Kevin, it seems to me that if we really want to be accredited, we should assign a committee that has specifically worked on this 24/7.
Winstead said his observation and perception of that is, “We kind of go on and everyone has other things to do – and then maybe things slip through the cracks or whatever.”
The CPRC advises on matters of downtown preservation and improvement.
The nationwide Main Street program aims to help transform old and historic commercial districts into vibrant areas with thriving economies. Rocky Mount’s Main Street program lost its accreditation status after 2017.
The Telegram reported that one of the main reasons the Rocky Mount Main Street program needs to be accredited is the need to have a comprehensive work plan. This plan is important because the content provides an overview of a local Main Street program’s vision, as well as the action areas intended to be achieved each year.
At the August 11 CCRP meeting, Harris said that in addition to the lack of such a plan, the program had missed an opportunity to earn points on a score sheet needed to achieve program status. accreditation. One of those missed opportunities was having active committees focused on design, economic vitality, organization and promotion, he said.
“And we had actually identified the chairs of those committees at one point — and then it all kind of fell apart,” Harris said. “You had COVID and—”
Jones told Harris, “No, let me arrest you. We did not fall. There was an incident where the city was having trouble with Main Street. So we didn’t crash – and when it did, it lasted over a year. And there was no communication between the city and Main Street.
According to Jones, the CCRP couldn’t travel as a council because the municipality was trying to decide whether or not to work with the NC Main Street & Rural Planning Center, which is part of the state Department of Commerce.
“So I got involved in that,” Jones said.
“I kept trying to arrange this meeting to make this happen and it never happened between the city manager,” Jones said, referring to Rochelle Small-Toney, who became city manager in 2017. and who announced his retirement on January 20.
“In this process, we lost that status,” he said.
He told Harris: “If we get back to the point and you all have agreed that you are all going to work with Main Street, then we can go back to setting up these committees and reactivating them and getting them up and running again.
“So I don’t want it to feel like we’re not doing what we’re supposed to be doing because our hands have been tied in order to start this process,” he said.
Harris said, “We never stopped working with Main Street.”
“That’s not true,” Jones said.
“No, no, no,” Harris said.
“That’s not true,” Jones said.
“Garland, I tell you,” Harris said.
“I’m telling you,” Jones said.
“I got the job done,” Harris said.
“I was there,” Jones said. “I spoke to the city manager – and there was no communication with Main Street. And you know exactly what I’m talking about.
“I know,” Harris said.
During the discussion, Jones also said that at some point city officials were talking about getting rid of the Rocky Mount Main Street program.
“That conversation was there,” Jones said. “So we couldn’t move forward as a board with that in place because there was nothing to work on.”
Harris had worked in banking and finance before joining the municipality and eventually becoming the director of downtown development.
During the August 11 discussion, Jones pointed out to Harris that before he first reported for duty at City Hall, “This council had all the committees in place and all the committees working and volunteers working with these committees, OK. It was all in place.
“And after Ratio he went off the rails and he never got back on track,” Jones said.
Jones was referring to a plan of implementation strategies for the city center, known as the Ratio plan. The text was prepared by architectural planning and design firm Ratio, engineering, consulting and design firm VHB and Joyner Media & Strategies.
The city council in office at the time never approved the plan, but Harris maintained that he and his team used components of the plan.
Winstead asked Jones why he wanted credential status for Rocky Mount’s Main Street program.
“You have to ask the city because the city is the one that joined this process — and we became part of this process by joining it,” Jones told Winstead.
Rocky Mount Area Chamber of Commerce President and CEO David Farris, who sits on the CPRC by virtue of his position, said: “There is prestige, recognition. There is money.
Training is also available through the Main Street office in Raleigh statewide, Jones said.
Winstead said, “I mean, all I’m saying is that it doesn’t seem worth pursuing something that isn’t worth having anyway.”
Harris clarified that he believes accreditation involves both bragging rights and prestige.
Harris also said he was told an accredited program had the option of getting money through the Main Street National Program.
Overall, Harris maintained the belief that Rocky Mount’s Main Street program affiliate status is nonetheless celebrated status.
“But if you’re there, you know, you want to be accredited,” Harris said.
He also noted that the fact that Rocky Mount’s Main Street program is not accredited really speaks to some weaknesses.
“And so, it’s more about us addressing those weaknesses than the status,” he said.
Later in the discussion, Farris asked Harris, “What are the planned action steps so that we don’t have this conversation in 12 months?”
Harris said the next step is to bring in experts from the state Commerce Department’s Main Street program to provide training. Harris asked CPRC which day worked best for them.
Farris said: “I would just say if you watch the first of September, I don’t think there’s anybody in that room who isn’t busy – and you’re only really watching in about two weeks from now.”
Jones said he thinks it should be pushed back until at least October.