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Proposed Zoo City Loop bus route. (Randolph Senior Adults Association)

Asheboro council — and the public — get ‘up to speed’ during retreat

ASHEBORO — Asheboro City Council members met in special session on Feb. 24 to learn that there’s plenty going on, from economic development issues to downtown development to public transportation initiatives to major recreation projects.

“We wanted to give the council the opportunity to be up to speed,” Mayor David Smith said. “There’s so much going on. When someone stops them on the street, they can talk knowledgeably.

“It’s an opportunity (for the council members) to communicate with city staff and gain more knowledge of situations we’re in and opportunities available.”

Among those opportunities is redevelopment of the center city, or downtown Asheboro.

Trevor Nuttall, community development director, talked about prospects for the Acme-McCrary mill building on North Street, the Church Street Lofts senior apartments and Trade Street improvements … among other projects.

The Acme-McCrary building, now owned by the city, is being considered for development as multi-use commercial retail on the ground floor and market-value apartments on the second floor. Such development would require a private company to come in and, Nuttall said, there have been inquiries from such entities.

The city is looking at options for developing the historic building, including using a portion for city offices while looking for more parking space for downtown. Before anything can be done, Nuttall said, the building needs to be stabilized, particularly the roof.

Nuttall said some of the questions being considered are: How much control should the city have over redevelopment? How wide a net should be cast for a public-private partnership? He added that the city should be ensured that a sale leads to an active project that soon supports downtown revitalization momentum.

Informed conversations are ongoing with Downtown Asheboro Inc. (DAI) for the potential sale for historical preservation of the building. Nuttall said the UNC School of Government provides finance and development expertise, with fees contingent on development occurring.

Closely aligned with the mill on North Street are improvements to Trade Street, a one-way alley between Fayetteville and North streets. 

Nuttall said Wooten Engineering is leading a study of the street, with traffic counts, scenarios of a build-out, and geo-technical work scheduled for both North and Trade streets. 

Wooten also would be involved in redesign of Trade Street, likely to make it more attractive and pedestrian friendly. The study also wants to ensure that what happens on Trade Street doesn’t negatively impact the rest of downtown.

Also in redevelopment is the former Acme-McCrary building on Church Street across from the Randolph Senior Adults Association. The former mill is being converted into Church Street Lofts with senior apartments. The building and the Senior Center are joined by a skybridge over the street.

Church Street Lofts was initially expected to open for tenants on March 1 but that date has been moved back due to the delayed delivery of special windows. Nuttall said the developers now expect the windows to arrive on April 3 and the opening for tenants to be May 1.

Currently, work is being done on the elevator at the Senior Center. Installation of window blinds is being delayed until the windows are in place. There will also be landscaping and paving for handicapped parking adjacent to the building. A new parking lot for tenants has been paved next to the Senior Center.

Here are other items discussed.

Public transportation

Mark Hensley, director of the Randolph Senior Adults Association, and Tawanna Williams, who heads up the RCATS vans, gave updates on plans for the Zoo City Loop and the Downtown/NC Zoo Shuttle. 
The Zoo City Loop is planned as a scheduled public transit system with the hub at the Senior Center with 19 stops around town. 

Those stops would include:

— Large apartment complexes in North Asheboro.
— Several senior apartments.
— The Asheboro Farmers Market.
— Memorial Park.
— The Asheboro Recreation Center.
— Randolph Health.
— Northgate Commons.
— Asheboro Mall.
— The Randolph-Asheboro YMCA.
— Wal-Mart.
— Randolph Community College.
— PART park-and-ride lots.

The Zoo City Loop would utilize two buses, one northbound and the other southbound. The schedule would begin at 7 a.m. and the last run would begin at 5:30 p.m., finishing up around 7 p.m. That would entail eight loops each day.

Hensley said the staff would monitor the stops and could drop or add stops depending on demand.
The organization is looking for grants to fund the purchase of two electric vehicles with wheelchair lifts, at a total price of $216,000, and two charging stations with a cost of $50,000. Two 22-foot light transit vehicles, at a cost of $270,000, would be purchased as backup to the electric vehicles. Annual operating costs are estimated at $200,000. 

With grant approval, Williams said, the vehicles wouldn’t be received until 2024.

The Downtown/NC Zoo Shuttle would offer on-demand transportation to connect hotels on Dixie Drive, the NC Zoo and downtown Asheboro. Transport would be micro-transit using minibuses. Days of use and times of service will need to be identified.

Riders would ask for transport using an online service or a special app. Rides would be offered by either RCATS drivers or a micro-transit vendor. It will be important that the vehicles used have approved signage, not be unmarked vans.

Williams said a funding grant, if approved, would be for a three-year term. She said they’re looking at a grant of up to $736,000 from the US Department of Transportation.

David & Pauline Jarrell Center City Garden

Groundbreaking for the David & Pauline Jarrell Center City Garden could be later this year, according to Jennifer Wagner of Prospect Landscape Architecture.

The garden, much of which was donated to the city by the Jarrells, is bordered by Worth, Main, Academy and Cox streets. Its location is historical, having been on farms owned by early residents of Asheboro, including Jonathan Worth who served as governor of North Carolina.

With designs being in the planning stages, Wagner said possibilities include:

— Use of an existing house as a visitor center.
— An heirloom garden.
— A boardwalk over a wetland garden/.
— A formal garden.
— A flowering shrub garden and meadow.
— A woodland walk.

During a workshop at the Asheboro Public Library on Feb. 23, Wagner said, a large crowd voted on what they would like the Center City Garden to be. Receiving the most votes was nature in the heart of the city.

Wagner described the sloping site as having open areas, a wetland and the existing house with room for parking. She said there will likely be places to sit, a gazebo, nature areas and designed according to the American Disabilities Act (ADA). 

She said it would be developed as a local attraction, nature in the heart of the city, an outdoor classroom, open space, a possible draw for tourists, a community asset containing state and local history, and an event venue.

COVID-19 report

Elizabeth Mitchell, director of the United Way of Randolph County, updated the council on a community assistance program to help people directly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Funds for the program come from the NC Department of Commerce.

Mitchell said there were 222 applications during 2022. Applicants were having trouble with housing costs, groceries, changes to Medicaid or reduction in food stamp benefits. She said most were working, just not making enough to survive.

Now, with the program ending and funds scheduled to stop, Mitchell is concerned that the needy will be left behind. 

“We can collaborate and support our community,” she said, asking, “How to come together to work together? There are many challenges ahead.

“We need to collaborate to help those who need help. We can move the needle forward. There’s much work to do. The possibilities are endless.”

Deep River Blueway

Mary Joan Pugh, Randolph County trails coordinator, detailed efforts to open the Deep River Blueway between Randleman and Central Falls, which is within the city limits of Asheboro. She said a ribbon cutting for the trailhead in Randleman will take place in March.

However, a site selected for the Central Falls trailhead was rejected since it’s in a flood plain. Trailhead options are still being considered.

Pugh said the Hacketts Trail, a greenway in North Asheboro, if approved, will lead to the Deep River Blueway at Central Falls. It will be the city’s first greenway.

Pugh said there are no state funds dedicated to trails. But a statewide group has asked the Legislature for $50 million to be appropriated during the state’s official Year of the Trail. She said hopes are that funds will be allocated for the Deep River Trail, which includes the blueway.

A brochure and signage for six trailheads from Central Falls to Cedar Falls are being produced. The Deep River Trail is mostly completed in Ramseur, Franklinville and Randleman.

Sportsplex and Ball Park

Michael Leonard, city engineer, gave updates on the Zoo City Sportsplex and McCrary BallPark.
The Sportsplex will have eight fields with artificial turf for soccer, lacrosse and football. There will also be volleyball and pickleball courts, walking trails, an ADA playground, picnic shelters, concession buildings and landscaping. A roundabout is planned for the intersection at Zoo Parkway and Old Cox Road.

City Manager John Ogburn said the Sportsplex is being developed at a cost of $14 million, with $8.5 million coming from federal funds. Leonard said the hope is to complete the project by the end of this summer.

Work on the McCrary BallPark began last year with an artificial surface installed. During the off-season, the grandstand and concession stand have been dismantled with new ones under construction. The grandstand foundation is being laid and the structure is to be delivered and assembled in late April or early May. Along with the new concession building, there will be new restrooms, ticket booth and playground. Grading has begun for the main parking lot, and soon for the new north parking lot.

South Fire Station

Fire Chief Willie Summers updated the council on plans for a third fire station on the south side of town.

“We’re waiting to hear about a grant for the fire station,” he said. Asheboro was one of three cities to qualify for such a grant.

Summers said a location is being sought on or near Zoo Parkway. The fire station will require three acres and will require the redrawing of response districts. He added that the last fire station built in Asheboro, the North Station, was completed in 1972.

The station building will be between 12,000 and 15,000 square feet with three truck bays. Inside will be an exercise room, kitchen, day room, dormitory-style bedrooms, restrooms, a decontamination room, a clean room and laundry room.

Along with the new station, Summers said they will need additional personnel and a new fire truck at a cost of $1 million.

“We’re extremely excited about the new station,” he said.

Water/Wastewater improvements

A new lift station at West Mine Street and a new intake at Lake Lucas top the list of improvements in the Water Department.

Michael Rhoney, Water Department director, said the NC Department of Environmental Quality has awarded the city a loan of $2.7 million for the Mine Street project. The interest on the loan is a low 1.1 percent, he said. The plans for the project are under review.

At Lake Lucas, the intake at the dam has to be replaced, with a budget of $3.7 million. Rhoney said the city is seeking state funds in order to begin in the spring.

Lake Lucas was being used for emergencies in the meantime while Lake Reese was providing the city with water. Now the Lake Reese intake is under repair. Rhoney said pumping water from Lake Reese costs twice as much as Lake Lucas.

Meanwhile, the city is planning to provide more than 3 million gallons per day to the Wolfspeed advanced manufacturing site in Chatham County. The state has said it will provide $55 million to Asheboro to run the water lines along US 64. 

Ogburn said the line will pass through the jurisdictions of Franklinville and Ramseur, and Liberty wants water. “When we get this (US 64) piece built, it’ll be up to the county to get water up 49 (to Liberty),” he said.

Rhoney said the design/build process has to be approved. And work on conveyance of the water through other jurisdictions is ongoing, with the Piedmont Triad Regional Council involved with planning. “We’ll need a letter of intent from all the parties,”  Rhoney said.

Ogburn added that the state is pushing for regional water/sewer systems involving multiple local governments. He said such a regional system “can create a growth pattern in central North Carolina.”

Rhoney said his department is looking at running water and wastewater lines down East US 64 to Presnell Street. On the drawing board is a wastewater lift station on Presnell to attract economic development. He added that the city has agreed to provide sewer service to the county’s planned Farm, Food and Family Education Center on Dixie Drive across from Salisbury Street.

NC Zoo annexation?

The North Carolina Zoo has asked to be annexed into the City of Asheboro. Ogburn said the city staff will report back to the council when more is known.

He did say that, if annexed, zoo ticket sales would provide sales taxes to Asheboro. Also, the Police Department would supplant the Randolph County Sheriff’s Office for security at the zoo.

New hires

Human Resources director Doug Kemp said the city hired 38 full-time employees last year with fewer than normal terminations. Of those, there are 12 new police officers, five firefighters, two at the Water Plant and three at the Wastewater Treatment Plant.

Kemp said they’re looking at giving supplemental compensation for public safety officers with a potential of $1,200 per year if certain criteria are met. Those criteria may include physical fitness, a second language, and college degrees or advanced certifications.

“We’re working with the Piedmont Triad Regional Council for recommendations to increase pay rates for all city employees next year,” Kemp said.

Airport improvements

The Asheboro Regional Airport is out of hangar space, according to Leonard, but so are other airports in the area. A new hangar is being completed here but the airport needs road improvements including a roundabout on Pilots View Road. Leonard showed an artist’s diagram of a new terminal at the airport.

“We need to build hangars,” Ogburn said. “Area fields are full. We’re working hard with our legislators on a terminal and hangars.”