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Granite Quarry eyes ways to enhance business district

GRANITE QUARRY — How do you make people in the 14,000 vehicles a day passing through Granite Quarry want to stop?

A two-person technical assistance team, provided by the N.C. Downtown Development Association, gave residents and town officials plenty of suggestions last week after a two-day visit.

Diane Young and Ted Alexander will be putting their observations into a written report about 30 days from now. They shared some of their impressions late Friday after two days of interviews and personal inspections focusing on the town’s central business district.

Young, executive director of the Concord Downtown Development Association, said Granite Quarry’s parks are a tremendous asset, setting a tone of expectation for the rest of the city.

The first impression of a park such as Granite Lake Park is not necessarily being extended into the central business district, Young said.

Young spoke on public and private design recommendations, along with business development ideas, while Alexander keyed in on promotion and organizational issues.

Alexander, western regional director for Preservation North Carolina, said people in Granite Quarry love their town but have concerns about its identity.

They want to promote the idea of a well-defined place, not just a town people pass through on their way to the beach or other destinations, Alexander said.

In no particular order, here are some of the things Young and Alexander left Granite Quarry to chew on after their visit:

• Main Street (across the railroad tracks from busier U.S. 52) should be included in what is considered the central business district.

• Granite Quarry is less than 2 miles from Interstate 85, but there are no signs pointing people to Granite Quarry.

• More directional signs are needed guiding pedestrians and motorists to the parks, post office, town hall, shopping and dining. Young noted that 30 percent of the people using town parks are not from Granite Quarry.

• The town should develop a long-range plan to remove overhead utilities and install decorative light fixtures in its downtown. “It would make a tremendous improvement,” Young said.

• To make pedestrians along U.S. 52 feel more comfortable, some consideration should be given to expanding the grass buffers between the street and sidewalks.

• Fix broken sidewalks.
• Consider adding more planters and hanging flower baskets downtown, but only if a maintenance plan is in place,

• Hold a design workshop to discuss pedestrian links between parks and the downtown.

• The town should have an attractive sign at its southern entrance, similar to one at the northern end on U.S. 52.

• Vertical banners on Salisbury Avenue should be used year-round, not just during holidays.

• Add bicycle racks in key places and publicize where they are located.

• Revisit the existing sign ordinance. In some cases, Young said, it is too restrictive now and should allow signs closer to the street, if the N.C. Department of Transportation will allow.

• Develop an incentive, matching-grant program to assist private property owners with improvements to facades, signs, awnings and parking lots.

• Young said the dominant colors in the central business district seem to be tan and brown. She suggested that private businesses be encouraged to add fabric awnings and brighter accent colors for doors and windows.

• Owners should pay closer attention to the rears of their buildings, especially those facing Main Street.

• Businesses should take advantage of their locations which often are set back from the road. They could accent those spaces with color, flowers and, for restaurants, outside dining, Young said.

• Apply for a Keep America Beautiful designation, and Young also suggested setting up a community appearance awards program.

• Provide well-designated pedestrian crosswalks.

• Maintain parking lots.
• Create custom street signs.

• Build on existing businesses such as medical offices, quarries, the Old Stone Winery and a bee farm.

• Take advantage of the proximity to places such as Dunn’s Mountain and the Old Stone House.

• Encourage specialty businesses such as a coffee shop, butcher shop, grocery, Dairy Queen, martial arts and dance studios, pet supply store, auto maintenance, wine shop, fish store and high-traffic fast-food restaurants.

Young said the town should create a business development tool chest, It could build on Granite Quarry’s low tax rate, develop a community-assisted business model to pull together start-up dollars for stores the town wants and possibly set up a loan program through local banks.

On the promotion side, Alexander said parks should have publicized wi-fi hot spots. He suggested the adding of interns to help with developing Facebook pages and a Twitter identity for the central business district.

The town’s web page could highlight businesses as they renew their licenses, Alexander said. He also promoted a monthly gathering of merchants who could organize joint events and share marketing strategies.

Granite Quarry also could build special events to promote its unique identity, Alexander said, describing ideas such as “Granitefest” and tours of the town’s historic churches over Christmas.

The town could easily develop a grand opening banner to be displayed and rotated among new businesses, Alexander said. It also could take part in ribbon-cutting ceremonies.

Alexander said Granite Quarry should build on its “Vision Fund” by possibly increasing the fees it charges for the Legion Building. It also could consider voluntary “rounding up” on utility bills, meaning customers would agree to have their bills rounded up to the next dollar, with the difference going into the Vision Fund.

Other possibilities to explore would be establishment of a community trust fund and municipal service district.

Alexander said a good source of manpower and improvements include Eagle Scout projects, church youth groups, civic groups and retirees.

“You have a really great community here,” Alexander said, adding the town is filled with people who care. “I think you have that desire and leadership.”

Paul Fisher, chairman of Granite Quarry-based F&M Bank, said the town should talk to people in other communities, such as Gold Hill, or visit towns such as Travelers Rest, S.C., to see what’s happening elsewhere.

Young and Alexander praised the suggestion to see what other towns are doing.

“It’s the kind of thing you probably want to do now,” Alexander said.

Lonnie Goodman said the town should investigate setting up power and dump stations for motor homes and other travel rigs going though the town.

Edna Cole said businesses could advertise the availability of picnic lunches, which customers could take to the parks or on hikes to Dunn’s Mountain.

Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263.

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