Ideas brew at coffee talkPublished 7:43pm Tuesday, August 7, 2012
Along with their pastries and coffee, Washington officials heard suggestions and questions during Coffee With Council on Tuesday morning.
Washington merchants and officials gathered at On the Waterfront to discuss their concerns, hopes and recommendations for improving not only downtown but also the entire city.
Topics ranged from improving economic-development opportunities to “sprucing up” downtown to parking issues. Approximately 50 people attended the informal meeting.
The future of the Turnage Theater was among the topics that surfaced.
Trent Tetterton, a Washington Harbor District Alliance member and chairman of WHDA’s economic restructuring committee, talked about an effort to revive the Turnage Theater after it goes through the foreclosure process. Tetterton said a group is working with bankers to determine what they plan to do with the theater, which closed its doors in December 2011 because of financial woes.
Jennings also weighed in on the Turnage matter.
“That’s working its way through the foreclosure process. We’re engaged with the folks. They know that we are waiting as a community for that to be resolved,” he said.
“What we really want to do is get in touch with someone that’s in a key position with the bank so we can understand specifically what their intentions are … and do what we can to position ourselves to be prepared to move in to the point if something does transpire with the Turnage,” Tetterton said.
Tetterton said the Turnage Theater is one of the main reasons he chose to move to Washington
“And I don’t think I’m alone in saying that,” he added.
Tetterton questioned the business plan for the Turnage Theater developed by its previous owners.
“The business plan that the Turnage had before was impossible. I believe it didn’t have any chance of success. The business plan, hopefully, coming out of the gate under some new ownership or leadership would be radically different and, hopefully, bring in more traffic downtown,” Tetterton said.
“Whenever you’re talking to investors about locating a hotel here or what have you, they simply want to know what is there to do,” said Jennings. “The Turnage is a big answer to that question. So, a viable enterprise there, or at least an active enterprise, is critical to drawing … investors.”
Bob Henkel, owner of the Inner Banks Artisans’ Center, wanted to know what level of commitment the city is willing to make to ensure the reinvestment and revitalization strategy adopted by the city in late 2009, particularly retail shops along the waterfront. Henkel stressed the importance of putting steps in place that lead to implementation of the plan.
Mayor Archie Jennings said that although the plan is one the city believes in, he doesn’t believe the plan calls for a string of retail shops dotting the waterfront. Those retail opportunities likely would be better suited for areas not right on the waterfront. Jennings also believes a hotel will locate in downtown Washington, bringing with it ancillary retail and service opportunities.
Scott Campbell, a real-estate broker who has an office downtown, suggested the city find a way to make property owners who have vacant buildings take care of their properties so they don’t deteriorate and make downtown look bad. He suggested owners of vacant buildings be required to put up curtains in front windows to help keep passersby from looking in, seeing “holes in the floor” and getting a bad image of Washington.
Campbell said he would like to see the City Council develop some “political will” to hold such property owners accountable for the appearance and safety of their properties.