DAVIDSON – By next year, members of the University of North Carolina School of Government will offer a fresh perspective and new approach on how to make the most of downtown space.

Under the direction of Downtown Manager Kim Fleming and following board approval, the town has contracted the school’s Development Finance Initiative to look at ways to use the area surrounding town hall to offer better connectivity to the downtown commercial corridors while potentially increasing parking, restaurant and retail opportunities.

“We’d like to have the opportunity to improve available office space, commercial and residential space and improve the tight parking we have,” Mayor John Woods said at the July 8 board meeting of what prompted the contracting of the school. “An advantage would be creating a connection to help Main Street and South Street be more contiguous than two separate business district.”

Commissioners each expressed their visions for the space, which included the potential uses as well as their hopes for appearance.

Commissioner Brian Jenest gave the example of Christmas in Davidson where activities are on each side of downtown, but commonly are thought of as separate areas. He’d like to see better connectivity to create only one true downtown.

Commissioner Rodney Graham added that while this is prime real estate for commercial business, people shouldn’t expect to see a replica of the Exit 30 area, but rather be more like the current downtown.

“You can’t replicate 100-year-old structures, but I want it to look more like the immediate surroundings and less like Exit 30,” he said.

DFI representatives Rory Dowling and Michael Lemanski, who will be handling the project, explained their objective is to offer the highest and best use of the space to meet public interest without a lot of taxpayer funds.

The DFI has previously worked on similar projects, designing an old parking deck into a multi-use facility, including parking, a hotel or apartment space and retail areas without obstructing the river view from other businesses. They also designed a commercial development in Shallotte.

For Davidson, their goals are to make use of the space, find a long-term parking solution and create a public-private partnership for new development. Their job will be to find the best use for the site, develop preliminary renderings, get public input, go over financing options and find potential development partners. The goal is to have the predevelopment work done by the end of the third quarter in 2015. 

Concerned that the final detail or contracted workers wouldn’t be in line with the town standards, Lemanski assured that the designs wouldn’t give exact square footage or be as specific as picking the color of brick, but give a general overview before an architect or development firm is brought in.

Commissioners also asked they consider saving green space, keep the character of the town and look into helping make improvements at town hall or find the needed fire department space.

Lemanski said they will spend a lot of time in the area over the course of the project and seek public input. The town board will have the final say in what is built. 

The cost  for the initial pre-development work for downtown by the DFI is $50,000 and is categorized as economic development in the town budget.