Waterfront called key to city’s development

Published 3:10 am Thursday, January 31, 2008

By Staff
New Bern development officials say downtown hotel needed, too
Senior Reporter
New Bern development officials came to Beaufort Countys on Tuesday to suggest ways Washington might improve its development strategies, starting with its waterfront and downtown.
Susan Moffat-Thomas, executive director of Swiss Bear Downtown Development Corp. in New Bern, said Washington’s waterfront is the city’s “jewel.”
Leaders in Washington must ensure the waterfront’s role in development is maximized, she said.
Approximately 45 people attended the two-hour meeting held at the Washington Civic Center. The Washington Tourism Development Authority sponsored the event, which was facilitated by the city’s tourism director, Lynn Lewis.
After about the first 20 years, she said, the downtown in New Bern moved “from zero to becoming something.”
New Bern’s downtown continues to evolve, she said.
Washington could benefit from some type of marina on the waterfront near the downtown district, said Sandy Chamberlin, director of the Craven County Convention and Visitor Center in New Bern.
Chamberlin said that businesses have “to be thought of as an attraction.”
Both officials said New Bern was in a dilapidated state 30 years ago. They also said the efforts that began 30 years ago to improve the city have never stopped and continue to bring development to that city.
Washington should be able to do something similar, she said, and Washington’s leaders must understand that “nothing just happens and continual working together must take place to produce what you want.”
Chamberlin said government, private interests and the public “may not always get along,” but as long as whatever they work out is for the betterment of the area, “it is good.”
As for developing Washington’s downtown, Moffat-Thomas said, that “workability and connectability” among merchants in the downtown district and “easy access” to shops, restaurants and business offices are important.
It is important for organizations like the Washington Tourism Development Authority to urge merchant participation in some form of downtown business association “to direct energy to make their cash registers ring,” she said.
Moffat-Thomas said the generation of pedestrian traffic is crucial and that the downtown area must offer amenities to people who are in the city to dine, shop and/or stay overnight.
Some downtown merchants face the problem of setting hours that allow people maximum access to the stores and allow the merchants time to spend with their families and doing things other than running their stores.
Real-estate agents are “a very important” part of the equation when it comes to helping a city develop its downtown and other areas, Chamberlin said. It helps that development effort to have real-estate offices in the downtown district, she said.
For Washington to develop a successful development strategy, the city must have input from as many sources as possible, not just government leaders and special-interest groups, she said.