This past week, a lot of talk and a lot of newsprint has been dedicated to talking about the need to revitalize the Bragg Boulevard and Murchison Road corridor, particularly where it intersects with Fayetteville State University. Additionally, Fayetteville State University Chancellor James Anderson called for a closer tie between the university and the city. None of this is new news.
When I moved to Fayetteville in 1997, people were talking about the same things. Everyone agreed that it was important work. It was work that needed to be done. And we all went about our business doing other necessary work. At that time, the city's attention was focused on downtown. People gathered to watch the old strip clubs on Hay Street fall to the wrecking ball and newer edifices like city hall, the police department and later, the Airborne and Special Operations Museum take their place. This was revitalization at its finest.
Residents gawked as brave investors began pumping money into downtown. The brave among us attended the first of the 4th Friday events, happy when we got back in our cars with no mishaps. And slowly, downtown became a reality. It was work, hard work. Those involved in the lion's share of that work, people like Robin Kelly-Legg, endured the cynicism and the rebuffs from established business owners, but kept pushing to make it a reality.
In 1998, WRAL ran a story about the revitalization of downtown: Years of planning, fundraising and taking risks is paying off, as downtown Fayetteville makes a comeback. You may not be able to see it from the street yet, but inside many downtown Fayetteville buildings, there is quite a bit of restoration going on. And, it doesn't come cheaply.
"Mike Pinkston owns the Climbing Place. One year ago, he invested his life savings in the indoor-climbing business. His hope was that if he built it, they would come - even if customers would have to come to a decaying downtown Fayetteville. Luckily, private cash has resulted in an uptick for the heart of the city.
"Since the spring of 1996, more than $24 million has been invested here by the private sector. The Fayetteville Partnership's Robin Kelly-Legg says that those investors are seeing healthy returns.
"Pinkston is so pleased, he is expanding his business. And, others have big plans as well.
"The investor of the Huske Hardware House brew pub will have spent more than $4.5 million dollars, once the floors above the restaurant are turned into apartments (That still hasn't happened). The Radisson Prince Charles is also spending about $4 million for a new nine-story tower. (That also didn't happen, although development plans are underway.) "Officials with the Fayetteville Partnership believe the money is coming, because people believe its Vision Plan is going to work."
There are some key things in this 15-year-old story about downtown that are missing when it comes to revitalizing Bragg Boulevard and Murchison Road.
First, there was a key entity - The Fayetteville Partnership was tagged with pushing revitalization efforts in downtown. And, there was a point person - Kelly-Legg. Her office lived and breathed downtown. More importantly, she had a passion for it and put her heart and soul into it. There is no lightning rod, no one-source that can be tagged for the revitalization of Bragg and Murchison. Certainly Chancellor Anderson cannot be that person and no one in the city is stepping up to the plate.
Secondly, there was a vast investment of private money going into the downtown area, as noted in the story, more than $24 million in private funding. We can't even get anyone to open a restaurant or hotel adjacent to a college campus. That should be easy. Students eat. Their families who come to visit need a place to stay near the campus. Why won't investors bite? Take a look at the crime rate and take a look at the surrounding neighborhoods. (Which again, scream revitalization.)
Finally, what's missing in the call for revitalization of these blighted areas is belief. People do not believe that Bragg Boulevard or the Murchison Road corridor can change, and where there is no belief, there is no action.
For these areas to change, we need at least one true believer who will spearhead the effort and put in the work necessary to make it happen. Who will step into that role?