LUMBERTON — The Rediscover Downtown Lumberton Committee showed off its five-year plan Tuesday to energize the city’s historic center.
The volunteer committee, led by retired educator Richard Monroe, outlined a 10-point plan that includes short-term projects, such as a splash pad for the downtown plaza, to more speculative projects like repurposing the former water plant, which has been abandoned for 20 years.
“This event shows that you do care about downtown Lumberton,” Monroe said. “This is a dream, but it is a realistic dream.”
The downtown committee is not an official city committee, but it has the council’s and the mayor’s support. Mayor Bruce Davis praised the committee’s work afterward.
“This is an important committee because it is made up of interested people from across the city,” Davis said. “We are all interested in the downtown, and it takes work like this, separate from individual precinct issues, to move it forward.”
Monroe echoed the mayor’s remarks.
“We are working on the behalf of the entire city,” he said. “I can’t tell you how important your support is.”
The event at Adelio’s Restaurant downtown was attended by approximately 75 people, including City Councilman Leroy Rising, County Commissioner David Edge, Lumberton Manager Wayne Horne, Robeson Community College President Kimberly Gold and Jeff Frederick and Barry O’Brien, deans of the College of Arts and Sciences and School of Business respectively at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke.
Two themes resonated throughout Monroe’s presentation — the importance of the Lumber River and the preservation of historic structures. Progress on downtown projects is already under way with the addition of a covered stage on the Plaza, a roundabout at the intersection of Water Street and Elizabethtown Road and the installation of directional or “wayfinding” signage.
State funding, grants and private investment will all be critical to downtown redevelopment. State Sen. Danny Britt delivered $250,000 for the splash pad, a new memorial park and a river-walk. The state Department of Commerce delivered a $94,300 grant to the city, part of which paid for the signage and fountain improvements.
More will be needed, and an $8 million grant to the U.S. Department of Transportation for the river-walk and road improvements to Carthage Road has been applied for, Monroe said.
Following are the 10 projects in Rediscovering Downtown Lumberton’s five-year plan:
One: Converting the plaza pool and fountain into a splash pad that, when turned off, will provide seating at the stage. The target date for completion is March.
Two: Conversion of an alley from Third to Fourth streets from the courthouse parking area to the Plaza into an attractive pedestrian link. The target date for this project is March.
Three: A viewing platform along the Lumber River at Water Street between Fourth and Fifth streets. The target date is October 2018.
Four: A memorial park at the site of the former Robeson County jail at the roundabout. The target date is October 2018.
Five: Sale of the old fire station to a private investor, who will convert the historic building to retail and office space.
Six: Water Plant conversion into a craft brewery or winery.
Seven: Convert one-way traffic on Elm and Chestnut streets into two-way traffic with angled parking.
Eight: Sale and conversion of the former First Union/Progressive Bank building at Fourth and Chestnut streets into a boutique hotel or bed and breakfast.
Nine: Re-occupation of the former Southern National Bank headquarters by the county.
Ten: Use of the Robeson County History Museum as a model for the restoration of historic buildings.
Monroe acknowledged the plan moves from realistic to dreams of gentrification and a vibrant downtown full of young professionals, artists, tourists and performing arts.
“A craft brewery in Kinston led to revitalization of their downtown,” Monroe said. “If Kinston and other towns can do it, so can we.”
Scott Bigelow can be reached at 910-416-5649.