City to pitch in for downtown development

By: David Bradley - Staff Writer

LUMBERTON — The city will make up a shortfall between a low bid of $610,000 and the budgeted amount of $250,000 for renovation work in downtown Lumberton.

The Rediscover Downtown Lumberton board of directors were told Thursday of the financial development during a meeting at Adelio’s Restaurant. The bid was for work on the downtown plaza’s music venue and water fountain.

The directors were told that having the city Public Works Department perform the project’s demolition work will reduce the low bid’s price tag to $560,000.

“The City Council decided to pay the rest, using operating budget money from sewer, water and development funds for replacement,” said Brandon Love, director of Planning & Neighborhood Services.

The board members spent much of their meeting discussing how grant money being pursued will be used on downtown renovation projects and how to draw more people to the area.

“The goal of having more people downtown can only be accomplished with having more things for them to see, do and experience,” said Connie Russ, Downtown Development coordinator.

In order to bring more people downtown, apartments and condos could be created on the top floors of buildings in the downtown area, Love said. Living downtown is permitted, but a difficulty is fire safety.

“The hurdle is sprinklers,” Love said. “Residential systems need private investment to get them in there.”

Love detailed the work going on in the performance space downtown.

“We’re saving the old brick for reuse in the sidewalks,” he said. “The fountain is being replaced. There were a lot of issues with trash, having to shut down frequently, and at Christmas. It took up a lot of space.”

The new fountain design is a flat splash-pad structure with 12 spray nozzles that can be illuminated at night in a variety of colors. The water will recirculate through drainage systems and be reused.

Other plaza changes include smaller stairs, and “a dance platform that should be good for shaggers,” Love said. “The four quadrants have had the brickwork lowered by two feet.”

There will be a new sculpture by local artist Melvin Morris in the plaza.

“Morris is creating an original structure that is designed to represent the uniqueness of Lumberton,” said Richard Monroe, president of the group. “It will relate to music — the kids should enjoy it — and depict the river. The plan is for the structure to be 8 feet high, a strong and safe structure that can take being climbed on.”

“It’s an honor and privilege to work on this,” Morris said. “It means a lot to me as an artist to have my work seen.”

The directors also were told that renovation work on the alley behind the Carolina Civic Center and on the Riverwalk is progressing.

Four pole-mounted transformers in the alley are being replaced with a ground pad, Love said. Poles, cables and wires will be removed. Water, sewer, and wastewater pipes are being replaced. A trash container that can be locked will be placed in the alley. And a lockable barrier will be erected to prevent foot and vehicular traffic through the alley.

A $150,000 state grant to help pay for the Riverwalk project has been received, Love said.

“There have been a lot of grand plans over the years, going back to 1997,” Love said. “Our grant won’t cover that, but we will be working from the far end of the retaining wall to the Fifth Street bridge. There will also be a floating dock from N.C. Wildlife Department that they’ll put in place for us. We hope it will be here in the spring.”

Other plans include more construction and debris removal.

“The city owns land near Scottish Packing. We could have a boat landing there,” he said. “The Army Corps of Engineers told us we could clean out undesirable growth, but leave those big cypress trees.”

Love spoke of “demolition by neglect.”

“It’s essentially allowing a home to fall apart through the neglect of the owner,” Love said.

Ordinances and historic commissions can be used to revitalize these structures, make improvements, and bring properties back to the tax rolls, he said.

The city is having “positive discussions with developers” about the old water plant on Water Street, Love said. The plant is being marketed to businesses.

Returning two-way traffic flow to Chestnut and Elm streets is being discussed by city leaders, Love said. But that idea is low on the city’s priority list.

Questions were also raised about the colored concrete used in the downtown traffic circle.

“We got a grant in 2011 from the federal Highway Administration of $500,000, and the state added $600,000. It went to the Department of Transportation,” Love said. “The city wanted to make a splash, but used something cheaper than brick pavers. The colored concrete is different than stained concrete. The colored variety actually has the pigment mixed in the concrete mixer; it goes all the way through the concrete. If it’s cut, it has the color all the way through it. It won’t wear out. Stained concrete colors would wear out.”

David Bradley

Staff Writer

Reach David Bradley at 910 416-5182 or [email protected]

Reach David Bradley at 910 416-5182 or [email protected]