Want to be heard? Speak up!

Published 12:16 pm Friday, March 2, 2007

By Staff
How soon we forget.
In all the recent talk about what to do with the former Evans Seafood property and green space between the N.C. Estuarium and former Maola facility, there has been little, if any, mention about five acres of green space — open space, if you prefer — on the east side of the Estuarium.
That’s right. The city owns 5 acres between the Estuarium and the Moss Landing project. That land is part of the 13 acres of the former Moss Planing Mill property that city acquired. Eight of those 13 acres were sold to developers of the Moss Landing project.
With the half-acre former Evans Seafood site, four acres of green space contiguous to it and the five acres on the east side of the Estuarium, there are nearly 10 acres of open space between the eastern end of the boardwalk and the Washington-Beaufort County Chamber of Commerce building.
Most of that open space, perhaps all of it, should remain open space.
Would a small, boutique hotel prove beneficial to the city? Probably so. Is the former Evans seafood site a good place for such a hotel? If you want a great view of the Pamlico River and the city’s waterfront, that piece of property would be a great location on which to build a hotel. If you want to keep as much open space as possible along the city’s waterfront, then building the hotel elsewhere makes sense.
Before deciding that constructing new buildings downtown and along the waterfront makes sense from an economic-development viewpoint, how about taking a look at adaptive reuse of existing buildings? What’s wrong with converting an old building, say a former hotel, into a modern hotel with retail activities on its ground floor and a restaurant on its roof? There’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, there is a plan to turn the former Hotel Louise into just that. It’s known as The George — Little Inn at Washington project.
Yes, there is some doubt in the public’s mind that project will ever be completed. But with new management taking over, the prospects of that project becoming a reality instead of a plan are greatly improved.
As part of its mission, Downtown Washington on the Waterfront should be pushing the adaptive reuse of existing buildings as a preferred alternative to the construction of new buildings. If existing structures, with some modifications, can provide the hotel rooms, residential space, office space and shops that will help revitalize downtown, why bother with new buildings?
In some cases, a new building may be appropriate. If a much-needed service, program or economic-development opportunity that requires a new building comes along, it may be in the best interest of the city for a new building to be constructed. After all, the historic Bank of Washington building was once a be a new building.
As some people are fond of saying, God isn’t making more waterfront property. And as waterfront property becomes more and more valuable, pressure to sell that property for development purposes will increase.
If the city wanted to send some, if not all, of its financial problems packing, all it need do is sell its nearly 10 acres of green space around the Estuarium. That’s not going to happen. It should not happen.
Those 10 acres have much more value to the city and its residents than just financial worth. As for those 10 acres, the green space they provide is worth much more than the greenbacks the city would derive from their sale.
And for those who ask if it wouldn’t be prudent to develop part of those 10 acres because the city has that much open space on the waterfront, they should look to the public for an answer. After all, the public owns those 10 acres.
And when it comes to deciding what to do with that land, the City Council, Planning Board and others should listen carefully to what the public wants done with those 10 acres.
Those bodies must listen. The public must speak.