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Council OKs parking deck funds

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BY LINDELL JOHN KAY
Staff Writer

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

With strong support, bold opposition and county leadership trepidation, the Rocky Mount City Council is one step closer to a proposed downtown hotel and parking deck project.

The council voted 4-3 to ask approval from the state for its financing structure for an $18 million parking garage to be built by Hunt Services next to the Event Center.

Councilmen Andre Knight, Reuben Blackwell and Richard Joyner and Councilwoman Lois Watkins voted for the financing.

“I support it,” Councilman Andre Knight said, adding that the Edgecombe County side of Rocky Mount deserves development that’s been held to Nash County for far too long.

Watkins said the project has been vetted and it’s time to move forward.

“A parking deck is a parking deck,” Blackwell said, adding that parking decks and hotels are found in every city’s downtown.

Councilmen Tom Rogers and W.B. Bullock and Councilwoman Chris Miller voted against the project’s funding plan.

Bullock said he couldn’t support another big loan.

Mayor David Combs said alternatives including surface parking should be considered.

Rich Worsinger, the city’s former utilities director, said Rocky Mount is in danger of becoming the next Flint, Mich.

Speaking during public comment, Worsinger said the city is hiding $62 million in needed water and sewer system infrastructure needs.

A consultant report prepared last year identifies the major problems and needs of the system but hasn’t been made public, said Worsinger, who left city employment July 1.

Worsinger said the city should take care of the sewer system troubles instead of paying for a parking deck.

Nash County board Chairman Robbie Davis asked the council to ensure comments made during public comment instead of the public hearing would be included in the meeting minutes.

Earlier in the day during their board meeting, Nash County commissioners said they had concerns about the parking deck project. Davis said he fears the brunt of the cost of the project would fall on the shoulders of Nash County residents living in Rocky Mount.

“I don’t want to get into Rocky Mount’s business, but there’s nothing there to justify what’s being considered,” Davis said.

The commissioners agreed the parking deck could be built and owned by the city for cheaper than the proposed public-private plan, which calls for an $18 million loan.

Nash board Vice Chairman Wayne Outlaw said he didn’t support the Event Center before it was built — but now that’s it’s here, he wants it to succeed, which it can’t do when saddled with the currently planned parking deck project.

Nash Commissioner Fred Belfield said the board should recommend alternate parking deck projects to the City Council before the project is taken to the Local Government Commission.

During its Monday evening meeting, the council voted to authorize the filing of an application for approval by the LGC of an installment financing contract for the parking garage.

During a required public hearing, more than a dozen residents roughly evenly split spoke for and against the project. Speakers against the project called on the council to be better stewards and called the plans “voodoo economics.” Speakers for the project said downtown development is long overdue.

Downtown property owner Elizabeth Scott said she supports revitalization and was an early supporter of the Event Center but doesn’t support the city’s financial involvement in the parking deck.

The council hasn’t done a good job of explaining its plans and more details are needed, she said.

Resident Robert Davis said he supports the project. He said not everyone needed to be an expert.

“We must trust we picked the right leadership,” Davis said. “Let’s move forward.”

Susan Perry Cole said the project would set straight years of neglect of downtown that’s lead to blight.

In public comment unrelated to the downtown project, resident Nehemiah Smith said he was pleased with the city hiring Corey Mercer as fire chief. Smith said he will continue to advocate for parity and equity in the fire department.

Retired Army Brig. Gen. Arnold Gordon-Bray said the Telegram has hammered the council while a law firm — paid for by the council — has given the council a positive review.

“Read the report, don’t read the newspaper,” Gordon-Bray said.