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Downtown hotel deal announced

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BY LINDELL JOHN KAY
Staff Writer

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

The Rocky Mount City Council on Monday night announced a huge hotel deal for downtown, addressed reports of a department head hit list and heard from the public on a number of issues.

A developer from Tennessee wants to build a brand-name hotel downtown next to the Event Center along with a 660-space parking garage at Goldleaf Street and Atlantic Avenue.

The preliminary plan is months away from fruition, said City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney. She said the project will be $60 million combined with the $40 million Event Center for $100 million in downtown development.

Developer David Hunt said he's been to Rocky Mount nine times in the past few months to study downtown.

"This is not pie in the sky," Hunt said, adding the plan is viable and feasible.

Hunt said he would also develop condominiums and 20,000 square feet of retail space.

City Finance Director Amy Staton said the city will have to contact the Local Government Commission and make sure that special obligation bonds and new market tax credits remain intact for the Event Center.

Mayor Pro Tem Tom Rogers said he is uncomfortable with the risk involved with the plan. He said it could be difficult to borrow money in the future and there hasn't been enough study.

The council approved a letter of intent for the project with a 5-2 vote. Rogers and Councilman W.B. Bullock voted no.

Councilwoman Chris Miller said she only voted in favor of the plan because the deal isn't binding.

To begin the meeting, Mayor David Combs said he's been contacted by residents who want a state investigation into recent revelations at City Hall. Combs said four offices can request a state probe of the city: The police chief, a judge, the sheriff and district attorney.

"I did make that phone call," Combs said.

Combs said he asked Nash County Sheriff Keith Stone whether he felt such an investigation should be called, and Stone told him no.

Combs said Stone said he's focused on gangs, guns and drugs.

Combs said the city is hiring a local law firm to conduct an independent review of City Hall.

Combs also said the city is establishing an 800 number so employees can report problems anonymously.

The internal auditor will work with the independent reviewers.

Combs said once the review is complete in four to six weeks, results that can be made public will be made public.

Rodgers said an outside firm will quickly establish the hotline that will provide unfiltered feedback.

Councilman Reuben Blackwell addressed a Monday article in the Telegram that reported he had given the city manager a list of employees he expected to be pushed out.

Blackwell said he respected freedom of the press, but a flurry of recent stories in the Telegram were full of inaccurate information.

Blackwell said he never gave a list of targeted department heads to the manager, and any report he did is a complete lie.

"I'm not afraid," Blackwell said. "I speak truth."

Blackwell said he wants to create the best Rocky Mount for everyone with equality, inclusion and shared prosperity.

Blackwell promised city employees that he wasn't trying to oust any of them.

Most of the council denied providing information about the list to the Telegram with Councilwoman Chris Miller saying she never saw a list and Councilman W.B. Bullock providing no comment.

"Someone is lying and it's not the eight of us," said Councilman Andre Knight.

During public comment, residents spoke in favor of the council and others questioned council about recent turmoil. Overall, the tone of comments were civil with a theme of working together.

Troy Davis encouraged the council to work together to eliminate blight in downtown neighborhoods.

Mark Russell again asked the council about conflicts of interest in past votes.

Kim Koo said the Telegram has been nitpicking the council.

Nehemiah Smith called the Telegram a carnival barker that was stirring up white folks unwilling to give up their perceived privilege. He said people are suddenly involved because "the room is getting dark."

Jean Almand Kitchin urged the council to open the one-stop permitting shop promised a year ago.

"The city needs a win and we need to see something visible to know you're listening," Kitchin said.

Bronson Williams asked the council to start televising meetings. He said the last two meetings were shown in the lobby.

"It's just one more connection," Williams said.

Several residents asked the council to appoint the Workforce Advisory Commission, which is meant to focus on affordable housing in underserved neighborhoods. The commission was approved by the council in 2017, but not yet empaneled.

The council also voted unanimously to approve a state grant for the Carleton House that had been awarded by the state Commerce Department in October.

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