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Economic momentum boosts city

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Pople walk into the Rocky Mount Event Center on Oct. 25 during its Grand Opening Celebration.

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BY LINDELL JOHN KAY
Staff Writer

Monday, December 31, 2018

In a year filled with economic momentum, Rocky Mount stopped in mid-2018 to mourn the loss of a fallen hero.

In June, Officer Christopher Driver was on duty when his patrol car struck a disabled bucket truck stopped illegally on South Church Street.

After an investigation, two men were charged with misdemeanor death by vehicle and leaving a vehicle unattended.

With the department since 2013, Driver was well known as a community-orientated police officer. He left behind his wife who was his high school sweetheart.

While searching for a permanent police chief, the city enjoyed a year of crime reduction and community connections under the leadership of interim Chief Willie Williams.

The city experienced an 18 percent reduction in crime from November 2017 to November 2018.

Williams' one-year contract expired and he has stepped down. While a search panel recommended Capt. Marty Clay for the top spot, City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney started the job candidate process over again.

Capt. George Robinson is now the acting police chief until a permanent replacement can be found.

Over the summer, city officials held a series of community meetings concerning the Confederate monument on Falls Road.

Rocky Mount Mayor David Combs said the meetings allowed the City Council to get ideas and reactions from all groups.

The monument was erected in 1917 as a private monument to the Confederacy. It was given to the city in the 1970s and rededicated to all fallen soldiers from Nash County. The monument once had separate statues of Confederate soldiers, but those were taken down years ago due of repeated vandalism.

The council hasn't made any decisions regarding the monument.

In August, the Rocky Mount Fire Department again won international accreditation, which lowers insurance rates for property owners.

The department received Internationally Accredited Agency status with the Commission on Fire Accreditation International. Just 250 agencies worldwide have earned the coveted status with the CFAI and the Center for Public Safety Excellence.

Rocky Mount Fire Chief Mike Varnell said the department’s achievement demonstrates its commitment to provide the highest quality of service to the community. The department has received accreditation for four consecutive five-year terms.

Renewed interest by CSX for a rail terminal in Rocky Mount should bring an economic boost to the entire community. The facility will have an indirect economic impact of up to 1,300 jobs.

CSX finalized plans through an agreement with the state to build a new intermodal transportation facility across from Wesleyan College on U.S. 301.

Known as the Carolina Connector, or CCX, the hub will be built on the CSX mainline and ran by CSX. According to the deal, the state will invest up to $118 million for site development and roadway construction.

In another accomplishment for the city, the $48 million Rocky Mount Event Center opened in October after years of planning and opposition.

George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic performed at the grand opening followed by a show from the world-famous Harlem Globetrotters and a concert by R&B artist Keith Sweat.

The Event Center can host basketball and volleyball tournaments, weddings, corporate events, concerts with 4,400 seats and more. The center has climbing walls, arcade games and slides to keep children busy, and a restaurant to feed the whole family.

In the center's fifth year, it's expected to draw 400,000 annual visitors and 46,000 additional hotel room stays.

Rocky Mount Mills continues to be a bright spot in the redevelopment of downtown Rocky Mount. In December, the Rocky Mount Telegram joined law firm Poyner Spruill, Nash County Travel & Tourism, Envolve Vision and Life 103.1 as the first corporate tenants of the Mills, a 150-acre mixed-use campus on Falls Road along the Tar River.

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