In a recent post, Tyler Mulligan provided an overview of how local governments can use an Urban Redevelopment Area to attract private investment. This post will describe an example from Sanford, NC.
In the early 2000s, the City of Sanford found itself in a position common to many other small towns in North Carolina. Concerted efforts to revitalize downtown had had a positive impact in turning around its historic downtown but there was still a long way to go. The redevelopment of old railroad depot in the heart of downtown in 2001 had been one major success. The redeveloped Depot Park was poised to be a hub of communal and cultural activity, home to outdoor concerts and movies in the summer and a museum dedicated to the railroad history of the area. Down the road, the Temple Theatre, a performing arts center, was a major tourist attraction. There were several popular restaurants downtown. Despite these coups, however, Sanford’s downtown still hadn’t reached its tipping point. The area surrounding Depot Park was full of vacant, dilapidated buildings. Many of these buildings were visible from the park, detracting from the redevelopment of that site. Additionally, parking was a major problem for visitors to downtown, potentially stifling the success of the remaining businesses.
In order to further the redevelopment of downtown and remedy these issues, the City of Sanford set about using the Urban Redevelopment Area designation in 2004. As outlined in earlier blog posts, an Urban Redevelopment Area (URA) is a state designation that allows municipalities to improve the uses and the state of properties within a particular distressed area or neighborhood for economic development purposes. In addition to its use as a public policy instrument to direct funding into a distressed area, the City of Sanford hoped that the URA plan would serves as a blueprint for the community, local property owners and businesses in crafting strategies for downtown revitalization.
At the outset of the planning process, the City of Sanford conducted a detailed inventory of all parcels and structures in the URA, documenting conditions through visual assessments and photographs. Because the URA was almost entirely a commercial area, the City felt that it was appropriate for the City Council to serve as the Redevelopment Commission, the body responsible for creating and implementing the URA plan. The local Main Street organization, Downtown Sanford, Inc., also played a key role in developing and executing the URA plan. Once the URA was in place, Downtown Sanford acquired many of the area’s vacant buildings and subsequently demolished those that were beyond repair. The site of the demolished buildings is currently being redeveloped into a parking lot that would service the buildings that front North Chatham Street, one of downtown’s major commercial thoroughfares. This parking lot will not only address parking issues downtown but it will also play an important role in hosting future cultural events. According to David Montgomery, the executive director of Downtown Sanford, the parking lot will eventually accommodate a farmer’s market and antique car show.
The creation of the URA plan also assisted the City of Sanford and its partners in securing external funding to support redevelopment. The City received a large federal grant to make streetscape improvements and to remedy some of the code violations in downtown buildings that posed fire and safety hazards. Most recently, the City, DSI, and a private developer received a $900,000 Urban Redevelopment Grant from the Department of Commerce to redevelop a prominent building within the URA, an old four story buggy factory, into a fine arts gallery and residential apartments.
Mr. Montgomery relayed that although it took a lot of time to see results, the URA designation was helpful in setting a blueprint for redevelopment of an entire downtown block. The URA process also allowed for partnerships with the private sector, encouraging reinvestment in downtown Sanford’s entertainment district.
This blog post is the final post in a series demonstrating how the Urban Redevelopment Area designation can be used for economic development and neighborhood revitalization in a variety of contexts. For more information on how URAs have been applied in other areas, look at past posts to learn about the experiences of the towns of Greenville and Mooresville.
*Photo from LEARN NC.
Marcia Perritt, a UNC-Chapel Hill graduate student pursuing a joint master’s degree in Public Health and City and Regional Planning, is a Community Revitalization Fellow at the School of Government.