Projects raising interest in downtown


Rocky Mount Downtown Development Manager John Jesso


Brie Handgraaf

Monday, July 20, 2015

Ongoing projects throughout the area as well as available financial support for redevelopment has spurred a recent increase in interest in downtown, officials said.

“With the advent of the Brewmill and the strategic vision of the City Council and the city manager’s office for the proposed downtown community facility, in the past six months, the downtown development office has seen an uptick in activity of investors both regionally and locally seeking downtown opportunities,” said Downtown Development Manager John Jesso.

Jesso said he has talked with individuals and developers about projects ranging from a seafood restaurant to residential developments in the heart of downtown.

“The North Carolina Main Street program said Rocky Mount has the best collection of historically, architecturally significant buildings in the state, which in itself is a tourism draw,” he said.

Keeping that distinction, though, is contingent upon the renovation of buildings throughout the area. Several years ago, the city established a downtown roof grant program to assist property owners with replacing aged roofs – but in 2014, the program was changed to the Building Assistance Program to provide matching funds for exterior and interior restoration activities as well as business upfits.

“The city wanted to encourage property owners to maintain their properties – especially the roofs because once you have water intrusion, the rest of the building rapidly declines,” Jesso said. “The biggest expense often is the roof, but if the roof is in good shape, this program also helps with awnings or facade or event signs for new businesses.

“It provides that little lift to help them get over the bump toward getting these buildings up and running again.”

Since Jesso started in May 2014, four applications have been processed and he’s had six inquiries. The city allocates $90,000 a year toward the program with $183,000 currently available to downtown owners. The funds – which can be reimbursed upon complication of renovations or paid directly to contractors – allows for a 50/50 match toward eligible improvements with a maximum award of $20,000 per parcel. The ordinance for the program also stipulates that the building must qualify for a certificate of occupancy at the time of the application or at the completion of the project to ensure grants go toward getting buildings back into use. One of the other contingencies is that the applicants are current with city and property taxes as well as utility bills.

Officials said they’d like to see Rocky Mount residents invest in the area alongside newcomers to the area.

“Investors from other areas have heard about Rocky Mount and are looking to come here because they see the potential, but we need that message to transcend negative perceptions and for residents to turn the page to a new day for downtown Rocky Mount,” Jesso said.