Council, City Project try to smooth over differences

Apr. 10, 2014 @ 05:51 PM

The City Council appeared to move a step closer Thursday to resolving the issue of how to handle High Point’s revitalization efforts.
But it was apparent after a morning briefing session that there is a long way to go in deciding what the future of The City Project will be.
Formed in 2008, the nonprofit is charged with revitalization efforts within the city’s 11-square-mile urban core. Since then, the organization has been overseen by its own board of directors and led by Executive Director Wendy Fuscoe, whose salary is paid by the city.
Some council members would like to lessen the city’s involvement with the organization, arguing that it has little to show for the public dollars that have been put into it over the years.
The city’s draft 2014-15 budget has funding for Fuscoe’s position — she is currently paid an annual salary of $100,828 — but her duties may be changed so that she works in a different capacity for the city and no longer works directly with The City Project board. City Project representatives have made it clear they would like Fuscoe to remain in her current role.
Tension increased between the board and council after it was discovered that the city drew up a draft contract to possibly hire former Showplace executive Joanna Easter for $120,000 a year to lead redevelopment efforts.
City Project supporters took offense at this, which they perceived as an attempt by the council to marginalize their efforts.
Thursday’s session, which drew only five council members (absent were Jim Davis, Foster Douglas, Jeff Golden and Judy Mendenhall), didn’t resolve much, other than to ask City Manager Strib Boynton to report back to council on what Fuscoe’s future duties will be.
Some would like to broaden the focus of redevelopment efforts so they encompass more parts of the city than the three focal areas spotlighted in the Ignite High Point master plan.
The plan has been the subject of much of The City Project’s attention and includes the controversial “street diet” proposal in Uptowne that some on council oppose.
“I think we need to go back to the original Core City Plan as the core document that’s driving this and start pulling in pieces of it that haven’t been done,” said Councilman Jason Ewing.
Councilwoman Becky Smothers mentioned the Five Points area as one of the core city districts that needs more attention.
“I think what needs to be clearly established is what the City Council’s plan is for the core city, so we’ve got a broader view of what the core city is other than the Ignite High Point plan,” Smothers said.
Aaron Clinard, a past City Project board chairman, said the organization is considering revamping its mission to focus more on business recruitment and economic development.
“We want your support. It’s important for revitalization. Please give us a seat at the table,” Clinard told the council.
City leaders for years have talked about shifting The City Project to more of a public-private funding arrangement, with grants and money from private sources.
“I think we want The City Project to grow with other sources of funding, so we’re not the only ones at the table, because it’s going to take big dollars,” Sims said. “I think it needs to be made clear from this council’s perspective that core city revitalization is important. Somehow, the impression got out there that we’re moving away from seeing that through, and nothing could be further from the truth.”