If not gentrification, what is the vision?


Patsy Pridgen


Life Columnist

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Lindell John Kay’s recent interview with Andre Knight featured in the Rocky Mount Telegram was interesting, as comments from the councilman often are.

Mr. Knight wasn’t reticent about a lot of subjects, labeling the Community Council and Concerned Citizens Facebook groups a new Tea Party and stating that Ms. Small-Toney’s hiring of friends for high-paying jobs is a practice engaged in by former city managers.

The part of the article that really caught my eye, though, came near the end. “’We welcome anybody who wants to invest in our downtown,’ Knight said.” Then he added, “A lot of developers who might be angry right now is because they were made promises that weren’t in line with the council’s vision.”

Well, here’s my question: What exactly is this vision? Councilman Knight, along with other council members, is on record as opposing gentrification, which admittedly can lead to displacement of current residents in an area where new development occurs. As restaurants, hotels and entertainment venues are built in a city’s core, for example, real estate becomes more valuable, pricing out low-income owners and tenants.

But wait. Don’t we now have an entertainment venue, the Rocky Mount Event Center, downtown? And hasn’t the City Council voted to study investing in a large hotel project with parking adjacent to this Event Center? As a result, haven’t some downtown citizens already been displaced or soon will be?

I have a 7-year-old grandson who has discovered the aerial ropes course and wall-climbing at the new Event Center. This Red Oak child now lobbies his parents to go downtown Rocky Mount. His grandma loves the Prime Smokehouse and has enjoyed a wine tasting at Bin & Barrel, both located downtown. Gentrification has already begun.

My husband and I recently spent a weekend in Greenville, S.C., a city just a little larger than Rocky Mount. We paid for two nights at the Holiday Inn-Express there just so we could experience Greenville’s vibrant downtown scene. We walked the few blocks to the city’s centerpiece, the scenic Falls Park on the Reedy, built around spectacular waterfalls that once powered textile mills. On the way, we passed The Peace Center, a performing arts center advertising its current play, “The Book of Mormon.” There were scores of restaurants, shops and several other hotels. The streets were full of people, young and old. What a vibrant, successful downtown.

We have the beginning of such here. Capitol Broadcasting recognized our beautiful waterfalls and mill history, and a section of Falls Road has become a happening place. We have an event center, and as Councilman Knight noted, a revived Douglas Block and Imperial Centre.

The City Council should encourage private investors to carry on what’s been started. If there are concerns about gentrification, then subsidized rent control or grandfathered property taxes could be implemented to avoid displacing residents who don’t want to move.

Or if there is indeed another vision that would bring jobs and continue the rebirth of downtown Rocky Mount, as gentrification would, then by all means the city council should spell out the details of that plan.

Check out Patsy Pridgen’s blog at www.patsypridgen.com.