The timing was spot-on for the advice offered at a special meeting hosted by the Zebulon Woman’s Club’s Tuesday evening.
Joyce Blackley, a prominent Clayton businesswoman, shared ideas on ways Zebulon can shake up its sleepy downtown district. She said the driving factor when she helped in the revitalization of downtown Clayton was that it was the collaborative effort of several different groups of people.
“The Rotary Club helps the chamber (of commerce), the chamber helps the Rotary Club and whenever something needs getting done, everyone jumps in and helps,” Blackley said as an example.
Blackley’s message was directed at the exact mix of people who she said can bring change to downtown Zebulon, if they work together.
Rotarians, Woman’s Club members who double as members of the Zebulon Beautification Committee, the mayor, planning department staff and members of the town’s elected and appointed boards were present.
New Town Manager Joe Moore, whose introductory speech was the other half of the Woman’s Club’s agenda for the night, and Denise Nowell, the new executive director of the Zebulon Chamber of Commerce, were also there.
“The Woman’s Club wants to work with the chamber, and this is what Joyce was talking about,” said Woman’s Club member Patricia Roberson. “We can get some good ideas from Clayton because we know that it has worked. We’ve got to work together as a community.”
Roberson had sent out an email imploring the town’s movers and shakers to attend the meeting and letting them know of the club’s new emphasis on exposing Zebulon to prospective residents and businesses.
“We are not too far from Apex, which was just voted the best place to live not in North Carolina, but in the United States of America,” Roberson said. “Everybody can’t move to Apex. If we get Zebulon on the map and they begin to hear more about us and what we’re doing, they might decide to come our way.”
Moore’s update on what he sees as three top projects on his plate included reviving downtown, an area where the beautification group for years pushed for a makeover in hopes of addressing vacant storefronts.
“The one (project) that gets me the most excited is downtown investment,” Moore said.
It makes more sense, Moore said, for the town to pursue development for in-town areas where development, and infrastructure and town services, already exist.
“But the biggest bang for your buck is typically seen in downtown areas, because you have a bunch of uses combined into the same square footprint,” he said.
Blackley said to get people to shop downtown, people need a reason to be downtown. “It’s about getting people to stop and look at your facility,” she said.
Planning board member and town board candidate Sam Hayes said the Freedom Balloon Fest, held in Zebulon for the first time over Memorial Day weekend, presents an opportunity for that to happen. Organizers expect to return the event next year with a better grasp of how many people it will attract.
“When we get that under our wings, that’s something we can get the chamber and the Woman’s Club coordination on,” Hayes said. “... I think that’s going to be the big thing, is you’ve just got to be communicating.”
Moore said the town can’t solve all its problems on its own.
“Governments, particularly local, can’t and aren’t set up to be the one-all, be-all,” he said. “The success of any community thriving is the result of government, nonprofits and the private sector. The role of government is to be the forum to bring those voices together and collectively work together to achieve that plan.”