Association highlights transformation of downtown Albemarle

Published 10:49 am Thursday, July 6, 2023

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The City of Albemarle was asked to share the keys to the successful revitalization efforts that have transformed downtown Albemarle at the recent North Carolina Economic Developer’s Association Annual Conference in Wilmington.

The NCEDA conference brings together economic development professionals from across the state to expand their knowledge, sharpen their skills and build connections to better serve their communities.

At the conference, Albemarle Assistant City Manager Darren Rhodes delivered a presentation and participated in a panel discussion to explain how leadership from city staff, elected officials and other stakeholders grew public/private partnerships, which has in turn sparked new residential, retail development and increased interest and investment in downtown Albemarle.

“The downtown revitalization in the City of Albemarle happening now is simply remarkable,” Rhodes said. “One of the keys to creating the positive momentum in our downtown is strong public and private partnerships.”

During his presentation, Rhodes highlighted four points in the city’s success:

• Vision – Albemarle has followed through on its streetscape masterplan, aimed at creating a new identity and sense of place for downtown Albemarle. The streetscape master plan, proposed by City Manager Michael Ferris, has led to upgrades to the downtown area including new navigational signage, new banners on light poles, new outdoor furnishings and other beautifications.

“When the city invests in beautifying public right of ways and properties, it often leads to investment from private individuals. They see that the city values the downtown and that private investment will be supported,” said Rhodes.

The streetscape master plan led to the creation of the new pedestrian plaza, which will be called Courthouse Plaza. Albemarle has also been an active participant in the North Carolina Main Street Program, which Rhodes said helped focus downtown revitalization efforts.

• Partnerships – Albemarle has focused on building public/private partnerships. Rhodes cited the example of the city attracting Pfeiffer University’s Health Science Center to downtown. The city worked out a land swap deal with Stanly County to move the Stanly County History Center to the former Albemarle City Hall Annex. The city then demolished and cleared the old museum property, then turned the site over to Pfeiffer University at no cost. This led to $18 million in construction investment, 25 full-time jobs and more than 200 graduate students.

• Resources – Rhodes explained how the city has leveraged available land, streetscape improvements, parking reconfiguration and grant funding to foster development. The city recently received Rural Transformation Funds from the state for streetscape improvements in the historic Five Points area downtown.

• Champions – Rhodes spoke about the importance of support for revitalization from elected officials, city staff, county officials and private stakeholders.

“While the city leads the way in sparking progress, we could not have achieved the transformational results in our downtown without the assistance of others in the community,” he said. “It takes those rare individuals who are passionate about a project or outcome who are willing and able to make a difference.”

In his invitation for the City of Albemarle to present at the North Carolina Economic Developer’s Association conference, Ernie Pearson, an attorney specializing in economic development, described the city as a good example for other economic developers in the state to be aware of and to contemplate similar measures in their area.

“We were honored to be chosen as a model for economic development in the state of North Carolina. This would not have been the case just a few years ago and demonstrates the value of hard work, creativity, partnerships and a desire to move the community forward,” Albemarle City Manager Michael Ferris said. “We’re thankful to the NCEDA for the opportunity to share our story and shine a positive spotlight on the work we’re doing in our community to make things better for everyone who calls Albemarle home.”