Mayor Ronnie Williams used his annual State of the Town Address Monday night to highlight some of Garner’s accomplishments in 2015, and foreshadowed what is to come in 2016.
In a video played before Monday night’s town council meeting, Williams said he and the council vowed to do their best to keep Garner moving in a positive direction. Much growth has happened in the past year. Many of the projects, which were included in the $35.7 million bond referendum passed in 2013, are either underway or have been completed.
Those projects include the new police station, renovations to parks, new sidewalks, a recreation center nearing construction downtown, and a new town hall in the future. Cabela’s opened up in the spring of 2015 and paved the way for more retail and restaurants to come to White Oak.
In 2016, the recreation center is expected to begin construction in the historic downtown area, followed by the new town hall. The recreation center is expected to be the catalyst for new growth in a downtown that has struggled to gain much attention from new businesses since U.S. 70 was built. The thoroughfare became the main route for traffic through Garner, whereas before it was Garner Road, which travels through downtown.
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“It’s easy to look around and see that Garner is a town on the move,” Williams said.
Williams also made mention of the residential growth. He noted Swift Creek Substation, a 660-lot subdivision off Fayetteville Road, was approved recently.
“It’s the first new subdivision the town has seen since the Great Recession,” Williams said.
Garner has struggled to attract residential growth since the recession. New Wake County residents have been more likely to move to the western part of the county in Apex, Holly Springs, Fuquay-Varina and Cary or the northern part in Wake Forest. Garner has tried address that by changing its water allocation policy to make it more enticing for developers and have urged the school board to allocate more resources to its schools which have struggled.
Many say the low test scores in Garner schools has a had a direct correlation in residential growth in Garner.
But there has been some cause for optimism. The new schools and the possibility of the N.C. 540 route passing just south of Garner is expected to attract growth to the Garner area. South Garner High School will open this fall. Garner Magnet High School students will move into the school for a year, while their building is being renovated.
“Our town – whose population has grown by 57 percent since 2000 – will continue to add many new citizens in the coming years, but I know that we will maintain the strong sense of community that makes Garner special,” Williams said. “We have a talented and dedicated town staff that is committed to maintaining Garner’s special character and to the strategic priorities defined by our town council: fiscal responsibility, efficient and timely delivery of services, orderly growth and a superior quality of life.”
Williams also credited Garner residents for getting involved and volunteering for the different committees, boards and classes in the town, encouraging others to do the same.
“Garner is not growing in a haphazard fashion,” Williams said. “We plan for our future. And in 2016, town staff will start on an update of Garner’s comprehensive growth plan. Community input will be critical to the success of that project.”