Most Town Council members say they want to consider an alternative site to develop a downtown area, but Mayor Mark Stohlman wants to stick with a scaled-down plan near Town Hall.
In April, consultants urged Morrisville leaders to abandon years-old plans to create a downtown district near Jeremiah Street. The town has spent millions of dollars on the plan and the purchase of 10 acres at the site, where the hope was to build a library and attract private developers who would build residential and retail space.
The consultants said Morrisville-Carpenter Road would be a better option because that area sees a lot more traffic. Most town leaders say they want to consider that option more closely.
But Stohlman said he thinks the Jeremiah Street site is less risky and could be completed more quickly and for less money. The town already owns land between Church Street, Town Hall Drive and Jeremiah Street.
“We have so many things teed up,” Stohlman said. He mentioned plans for a library, aquatics center, recreation center and farmers market – all public projects that wouldn’t require private investors.
On Tuesday, economic development and planning experts told the council that retail is unlikely to flock to the Jeremiah Street site, since only about 4,000 cars drive by the area every day.
Morrisville-Carpenter Road sees four times the amount of traffic, which could make it a good downtown hub, they said.
The Morrisville-Carpenter Road site could became an area full of shops, restaurants and more, said Rodney Swink, a former director with N.C. Main Street, part of the state Department of Commerce.
A downtown is more than just public space, he said.
“We’re talking about something that’s broader than that,” Swink said. “It’s a gathering space, but it’s also an economic center.”
Councilman T.J. Cawley said switching gears to the Morrisville-Carpenter Road site would cost money, “but I think the community will support it if we can make some progress.”
Stohlman, though, said he worried no private developers would jump on board, or that they would fail.
Councilman Michael Schlink said he doesn’t believe Morrisville residents want to pay any more money to create a downtown – especially since places like Park West Village are already booming.
“I don’t think the public is willing for us to increase taxes over anything like this,” he said.
Mayor Pro Tem Liz Johnson said the council shouldn’t assume what citizens want or what they don’t want, since the town has never asked.
Some council members said they need more information about all the options before moving forward. The council is expected to continue the discussion at its Sept. 9 meeting.
“Either we’re in the job of dreaming forever, or we’re in the job of doing the best we can with what we’ve got,” Stohlman said.