Feb 012013


By Wesley Brown

Friday, February 1, 2013

Early returns from the Greenville City Council’s annual planning session last weekend show a possible Medical Research Park as the only economic development initiative to gain majority support, with four council members selecting it as one of Greenville’s “most important” needs.

“Medical research just seems like a no-brainer in Greenville and I think to build around it with a corporate park, can really help us become a true medical hub,” At-large Councilman Dennis Mitchell said on Thursday.

The $2.5 million Medical Research Park proposal received the highest number of mentions of the 45 needs or initiatives the council said it would be like to fund, possibly as early as next year’s budget, to improve the city’s economy, infrastructure and parks system.

No other item was selected by three or more members. Fourteen projects received approval from at least two members and only seven received significant support, City Manager Barbara Lipscomb said.

Behind the Medical Research Park came a request from District 3 Councilwoman Marion Blackburn to “preserve the Town Common as an open park.”

Conceptual drawings released by the city on Monday call for significant development on the 12-acre park along the Tar River, including mixed-use housing, a museum and gift shop.

Blackburn said on Thursday that the Town Common is “essential” to quality of life in Greenville.

“We have plenty of noisy crowded places,” Blackburn said. “We need to keep the Town Common as a quiet, uncrowded place where we can come together as a community and I hope that this will continue to be the city’s ideal.”

The top priorities identified by the council were selected last weekend during a brainstorming session facilitated by David Long, a professional planner who has led retreats and goal-setting sessions for more than 60 companies and communities since 1995, most of them in North Carolina.

As part of the exercise, Long asked each of the council’s seven members to provide what they considered to be the city’s most pressing issues, in alliance with the five presentations made by staff on Greenville’s finances, its future and its needs.

Of the 45 given by the council, each member chose seven and ranked each on importance. The remaining top five were requested by Greenville Mayor Allen Thomas, District 4 Councilman Calvin Mercer and District 5 representative Max Joyner and each received 10 votes. They included:

Further enhance and develop the city’s Economic Development Office (Thomas).

More lighting and security cameras in the city (Thomas).

Diversify potential revenue sources (Mercer).

Consider a “Park, Arts, Recreation and Infrastructure” bond (Mercer).

Identify goals and provide for recreation and parks (Joyner).

Consider a separate transportation bond (Joyner).

Long said most boards, commissions and councils generally stick to achieving the goals through which some consensus is reached.

Mitchell said it may be difficult to accomplish a Medical Research Park in Greenville because of funding.

Greenville’s Financial Services Director Bernita Demery said the city could afford $420 million in debt if it explored a mixture of potential revenue sources, like limited obligation and special revenue bonds, installment purchase agreements and a one-time contribution of $4.2 million from the general fund.

Mitchell speculated the park would require a partnership between East Carolina University, Vidant Health and possibly a private developer, and was not something a bond could cover.

He said a city investment into its road system — 100 miles of which is in poor condition — would help influence the project and is an item he plans to lobby his fellow council members to support.

Contact Wesley Brown at 252-329-9579 or wbrown@reflector.com. Follow him on Twitter @CityWatchdog.

via The Daily Reflector.


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