The recently formed Cool Spring Downtown District is an effort to rebrand and promote downtown Fayetteville. It was developed to drive economic growth and nurture activity in the heart of the community. The hope is to make downtown “a cool place to live, shop, eat, drink, see a movie and so much more,” said Mark Regensburger, president and CEO. It’s the outgrowth of a study commissioned by the Arts Council of Fayetteville/Cumberland County. The organization differs from the Downtown Alliance because it focuses on events, activities and connecting organizations rather than on retail sales.
“This first year is demonstrating what it means for the community to be wholly focused on downtown,” Regensburger said. He thinks of the area as a neighborhood that can grow to attract people from all over Cumberland County.
Regensburger said CSDD is defined as the area that comprises the downtown Municipal Services Tax District. This is the region in which merchants and property owners agreed to tax themselves to financially support development. It’s loosely bounded by Russell, Cool Spring, Grove and Rowan Streets, Bragg Boulevard and Robeson Street. “As an arts and entertainment district, it fills the gap between other organizations,” Regensburger said.
One way it’s working to fill that gap is through committees, each led by a CSDD board member.
The design committee focuses on the physical aspects of the district. It is chaired by Anna Hodges Smith, president of Hodges Associates, Inc. and a member of the Arts Council board of trustees. “How can you know you’re some place special when you get there?” Regensburger asked. “There are signs all over the place, but they all say different things. So we’re working toward getting a single feeling.” He said the committee’s goal is to make it easy to tell when you’re in the district by creating a cohesive feeling through physical means. Architects and advocates for pedestrian and bicyclefriendly solutions are among those involved.
“I think (this committee) is going to make the biggest long-term impact,” Regensburger said.
The economic vitality committee, co-chaired by Astros manager David Lane and Ashley Thompson, co-owner of Pressed – A Creative Space, focuses on helping new downtown businesses understand the practical ins and outs of getting established in this location.
“There are a lot of downtown businesses involved in (this committee),” Regensburger said. “They’re going to put together a mentoring program to help businesses work through everything they need and deal with the city.” He noted that downtown Fayetteville recently saw the opening of several new businesses. These include Koala Candor, a children’s clothing store; The Yellow Crayon, a brand marketing company that’s expanding to include on-the-spot custom printed T-shirts; Floating Shanti, a floatation therapy center; and The Door Belle, a women’s clothing store. Though the economic vitality committee has not created its formal mentorship program yet, Regensburger and CSDD General Manager Sam DuBose did visit each of these new businesses to greet the owners and to see if they needed any help. “A lot of them were renovating, so we worked with them to see if they were having any issues with rezoning or anything like that,” Regensburger said.
Thompson also works with Dr. Hank Parfitt, co-owner of City Center Gallery & Books, to lead the digital presence committee. This committee uses many forms of media to amplify initiatives created or supported by the CSDD. Since mid-November, it has been working with local radio stations and social media to push Shop Small Business Saturday leading up to Christmas. “They’re just trying to get more people to think, instead of fighting the lines and the crowds, come on downtown. It’s a more intimate experience,” Regensburger said.
The programming committee is tasked with planning and overseeing downtown events and activities, whether sponsored by CSDD or in partnership with other groups. Isabella Effon, owner of Taste of West Africa, is the chair. Examples of such events include the Fayetteville Dogwood Festival, Rape Crisis of Cumberland County’s Walk Awhile in Her Shoes, and events put on by the Arts Council or the Downtown Alliance.
The community solution team’s goal is to bring together all the agencies that deal with issues like homelessness and panhandling to create unified, collaborative solutions. It’s chaired by David Blackman, senior pastor at Hay Street United Methodist Church. Regensburger said the team includes workers from Fayetteville Area Operation Inasmuch, The Salvation Army, Fayetteville Police Department, the city of Fayetteville and downtown businesses.
“We’re trying to coordinate it, because sometimes there’s four people serving one meal, and the next day, there’s no lunch for anybody,” Regensburger said. “We’re looking at maybe having a single location that’s sort of designated and supported. ... Cpt. James Nolette, our city police officer who’s in charge of this district, said, ‘It’s a social problem. You can’t arrest people out of hunger; you can’t arrest people out of panhandling. It’s something that’s got to come from a broader base of people.’”
Finally, the promotion committee aims to find the most effective ways to communicate the message and goals of CSDD. Jean Moore, account executive at BrandAlliance, is the chair.
The CSDD also recently took on a management role that will benefit downtown businesses. For the past year or two, Regensburger said, the Downtown Alliance has been working with the city to implement a shared trash and recycling space for downtown businesses. That work has finally paid off, and, as of last week, the CSDD stepped up to work with Waste Management as managers of the shared space, which will be located in the parking lot of the Arts Council.
“This is the key link in getting all of those old roll carts off of Old Street,” Regensburger said. “That’s something people don’t think of. … Downtown, each and every business and resident has to contract (trash collection) individually, and so we’re moving toward more of a community solution.
“The complaint was, it’s hard on new businesses, it’s ugly on the streets. This (shared dumpster) is an example of the sort of collaboration between the city and other organizations that we are starting to take on and actually manage. I think that’s the key difference – (before), there was nobody in place to make sure these solutions kept rolling. Starting Jan. 1, there are the mundane things of billing and making sure (the trash) gets picked up.”
The minor league baseball stadium being built by the city of Fayetteville will become a significant attraction for a wide variety of residents and fans, Regensburger said. He said it will be another factor that adds uniqueness to the neighborhood. The Advanced Single-A Houston Astros farm team is wholly-owned by the Astros, which has a 30-year agreement to provide professional baseball. That’s apparently unusual to the benefit of taxpayers because the city is not involved in the operational funding of the team. The Astros organization will be solely responsible for management and maintenance of the ballpark.
The Downtown Alliance, city of Fayetteville, the Municipal Service District and the Arts Council fund the CSDD to the tune of $386,000 during this first year. Eric Lindstrom is chairman of the board of directors. Patrick Callahan serves as vice chair, Brent Sumner as treasurer and Molly Arnold as secretary. All have histories of involvement in downtown Fayetteville.
The group’s name was chosen from the historical significance of Cool Spring, which adjoins the district, and the Cool Spring Tavern, which is a historic two-story home believed to be the oldest existing structure in Fayetteville. It was built in 1788 and survived the disastrous fire of 1831. Cool Spring Place, as it’s officially known, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972.