Spencer town manager talks about Park Plaza plans

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 6, 2018

SPENCER — Terence Arrington says a good town manager is like a visionary: He works alongside town officials to share ideas and shed light in an effort to bring about development, he said.

It’s this eye for development that will guide him Tuesday, when Arrington, Spencer’s newly appointed town manager, presents the Board of Aldermen with an update on its Park Plaza project.

According to Arrington, the project has been in limbo because of submission deadlines coinciding with the fiscal year of its funding agent, the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

USDA has now received funding for the project, meaning the project can proceed if the town facilitates closing with owner PI Holdings.

The purchase, totaling $668,000, will require the town to temporarily transfer $268,000 from its fund balance. That money will be reimbursed by USDA, Arrington said.

The $668,000 will be used to purchase 20,000 square feet of commercial space in the plaza building. The town’s administration departments and Police Department will then move into the space, with some available for possible commercial leasing.

But Arrington said the aldermen could yet choose to go another route. In fact, he’s planning to suggest that the board consider evaluating the contract with PI Holdings before moving forward.

There are currently no contractual requirements that the plaza property owners would redevelop its remaining retail space.

“We really need to get some commitment from the property owner that he’s going to do his part,” said Arrington. “… You really can’t hold anybody to the fire if there’s no contractural agreement.”

Arrington said he wants the town to consider creating a master plan for downtown redevelopment.

“Instead of just looking at one piece of the puzzle, it would make sense for us to look at the whole downtown core and develop a master plan, look at it in phases,” he said. “Because ultimately, we’ll still have a lot of vacant buildings around downtown as well.”

The town could consider alternatives to address a need for space for the Police Department: finding a smaller building for its administration department, for example, he said.

Arrington said he originally had eyes on the old SunTrust Bank building, but the building recently was sold.

A smaller building and move would take away less potential property tax revenue than the Park Plaza move, he said.

The town manager said he sees enormous potential for a revitalized downtown economy centering on the North Carolina Transportation Museum.

If the plan is done well, the town could become an all-in-one attraction, with places for residents to live, shop and eat.

“We don’t want residents to have to leave the town to be able to spend money,” he said.

Town officials need to consider if the Park Plaza renovation will truly bring about viable business investment.

“When you talk about downtown development, it’s all about highlighting what you do well and adding to it,” said Arrington. “But, most importantly, it’s about working with the business community and letting them do what they do best: make money and work collaboratively with local government to help turn things around. … We get one shot to do it right.”

The Spencer Board of Aldermen will discuss the project during its meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the municipal building, 600 S. Salisbury Ave.