As part of Fuquay-Varina’s attempt to create a cohesive development plan for its downtown, the administration of the state-funded Main Street program will be brought in-house.
The board of commissioners voted to make the change at its May 2 meeting. And while the move is partly designed to ensure a unified effort as the town works with consultants to attract developers, it may have come at the expense of the town’s relationship with the Fuquay-Varina Downtown Revitalization Association, which has administered the Main Street program for the past seven years.
The nonprofit association, which also organizes annual downtown events and promotes the district and its businesses, is expected to lose a significant part of its budget. That decision has created tension between the town and the non-profit’s director and board, Commissioner Marilyn Gardner said. She is a non-voting member of the association’s board.
Town leaders are in the beginning stages of work with the Development Finance Initiative, a planning consultancy run out of UNC’s School of Government. The success of redeveloping Fuquay-Varina’s downtown hinges on public-private partnerships and the town’s ability to create a cohesive development strategy.
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North Carolina’s Main Street program provides technical and programmatic expertise, advocacy and networking services to member towns, but not funding. It requires a committee appointed by the town or a nonprofit advisory board to facilitate those services. As part of the town’s decision to self-administer the program, it eventually will have to appoint such a committee.
With the Main Street program moving to Town Hall, the association will lose the $45,000 to $60,000 it has received annually from the town to implement the program. The nonprofit’s annual operating budget has been around $180,000, Gardner said.
Gardner said it also has put Naomi Riley, executive director of the Downtown Revitalization Association, in a tough position.
Town Manager Adam Mitchell said he approached Riley to offer her a newly created position in the town’s economic development department, but that she did not accept. The new development staff member, whose salary is included as part of the town’s 2016-2017 draft budget, will also coordinate the Fuquay-Varina’s relationship with DFI and potential developers.
Gardner said she felt the offer was not made especially gracefully.
“In truth, the thing that bothered me most was that she is employed by this nonprofit board – we do the hiring, the firing,” Gardner said. “The board was upset that it was not consulted.”
Mitchell disagreed, saying he approached the board about Riley’s offer. He said his willingness to offer her the job should be seen as an endorsement of the association’s work and that the town never intended to end its relationship with the nonprofit.
“I stated that the town would prefer that they continue to be the nonprofit arm working with our town staff person on our Main Street program,” he said.
Riley declined to talk about the situation, but said in an email: “I was offered to transition my role over to a town staff position. I feel my creativity is better served by working for a non-profit, so I respectfully declined the offer. I feel Fuquay-Varina Downtown has been an asset to the community as a result of 16 years of private sector support. I look forward to serving on this board in order to continue to do great things for the citizens and visitors of Fuquay-Varina.”
Gardner said she questioned whether town staff had taken into account how the town had benefited from the relationships Riley and the association had formed on its behalf.
“I think the businesses ... that have bought into this organization, they bought into Fuquay-Varina Downtown Revitalization, not the Main Street program,” Gardner said. “My question was what are we not doing? Are we not doing a good job?”
When the town board voted May 2, Commissioner William Harris asked that the resolution include an acknowledgment of the downtown association’s contributions toward “promoting a sustainable downtown economy.”
Gardner, who cast the lone dissenting vote, said then she was dissatisfied with how the town had approached the matter. She said later she will support the town’s decision.
Mitchell said the town hopes to hire the new staff member by late June.
Gargan: 919-460-2604; @hgargan