Economic Development

We on the Board of Aldermen were recently presented with (and approved) a multi-party financial agreement that would lead to the following result:  keeping two successful local businesses – Fleet Feet, Inc. (its headquarters and a retail store) and Kalisher – in Carrboro.  An overview of the agreement can be found by reading the following article: The agreement involves a purchase of property and a financial commitment by the Town.

We received lots of support electronically and in-person at our board meeting where we first discussed this proposal publicly.  We did receive a small amount of negative feedback; these related to two general themes.  One concern was around parking – in a town where we are trying to promote biking, walking and using the bus, why are we committing to providing what seems to be a large number of parking spaces for one of the businesses?  We addressed this concern by tying in the parking more closely to the number of employees expected for the business, and by providing financial incentives for employees of that company that chose to use alternative means of transportation to work.  But – point well taken.  As we continue to examine our parking situation in town, this feedback seemed particularly timely and relevant.

The second concern was around what could be characterized as a lack of transparency with the transaction.  The general public found out about this proposed deal four days before our first public discussion and first vote on the matter.  Usually in Carrboro, we kick around an idea of this magnitude for a few weeks, getting lots of public input, before voting on it.  This deal, by its nature, was a different animal.  The Board of Aldermen had discussed the proposed purchase in closed session twice before it appeared on the public agenda, as this is one of the rare subjects (purchase of real estate) permitted by law to be discussed initially in this way.  Secondly, because of the timing of the deal (end of June, before the summer break), input from the general public had to be received as soon as possible (as some input was) and a decision had to be voted on quickly to keep the E. Main Street project moving forward and to keep our two local businesses here in Carrboro.  It seemed to me to be one of those times as an elected official that, having been elected by the citizens, we needed to use our best collective wisdom in determining with a short turnaround whether to move forward with the deal.  This being the case, I believe we made the best decision for Carrboro’s future.

At our meeting on March 12, 2012, we heard a report from staff about the current policy regarding the use of our Town Commons, and whether we wanted to investigate any changes to the policy.  Most of the agenda item consisted of a history of the modifications to the policy (for example, expansion of the Farmer’s Market, allowing fundraisers, allowing other events of different durations under certain conditions, and discussing insurance requirements).   One suggested change we were made aware we might consider was whether we wanted staff to investigate allowing the sale and consumption of alcohol at the Town Commons (we have such a policy at the Century Center).    Making such a change to the policy would allow us to attract different kinds of events, such as a “Cask Ale Festival” as suggested by Tyler Huntington of locally owned Tyler’s Taproom.

Before we considered the motion, we spent a good deal of time asking various town employees how increasing our special events has affected their existing workloads.   In particular, we spoke with Police Chief Carolyn Hutchison and Public Works Director George Seiz.  Recreation and Parks Director Anita Jones-McNair was also in the audience. These three departments, in particular, are affected by this increase in events.

Annette Stone, our Economic Development Director, has done a bang-up job highlighting special events and bringing new ones to the Town, and partnering with local businesses to increase these (witness the Tift Merritt concert held in fall of 2011 at Town Commons as well as the “For the Love of Carrboro” February themes, among others).  But with an increase in these type of activities comes more work on our already busy staff, and we wanted to signal to the Town Manager (David Andrews) that we recognize this and if necessary, we should explore creative solutions to accommodate our goal to add events, but not burn out or overwork staff.  David agreed that he was aware of this, and was working to identify ways to address these concerns.

The Board voted unanimously for staff to bring back to the Board procedures that would allow alcohol on the Town Commons property, also taking into account all insurance requirements.