North Wilkesboro officials should look locally to find the best prospects for private redevelopment of the town-owned former water treatment and Elks Lodge properties.
Matt Crook, project manager with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Government’s Development Finance Initiative (DFI), shared that advice and more during a town board meeting Tuesday night.
The Town of North Wilkesboro hired DFI in August 2018 to analyze private redevelopment potential of the two sites and Crook presented the findings verbally and in a written report Tuesday night. Work done by DFI so far cost the town $19,800.
“Given the constraints of both sites, DFI recommends the town seek out potential local or small-scale developers that might be interested in either site’s development potential,” the report said.
Getting either property redeveloped “would take a right-minded entrepreneur or investor or developer, and a lot of times those folks are local, they’re home grown,” said Crook.
“I’m not sure if anybody from Winston-Salem or wherever would come here and look at that. It’s finding who are those folks locally who want to partner and redevelop parts of North Wilkesboro.”
Water treatment site
Crook said the old water treatment building, which is along the west side of the Reddies River near the town’s small water supply dam on the river, could support about 10,000 square feet of retail development and might be suitable for a restaurant or water-themed store such as a river rafting or a fly fishing company. He said doing so would require extensive work on the existing water plant structure and demolition of two existing garage structures.
He said the town would need to acquire easements and build a new road providing access from West D Street to the old water treatment building. He shared a slide showing a proposed new road between Rite Aid and Meadows Mills Inc.
“If I’m a business owner,” said Crook, “it’s hard for me to attract people without a very navigable, accessible road.”
The town currently accesses the old water treatment building and the 3.90-acre town-owned parcel it is on via a street that runs parallel and close to the west bank of the Reddies.
Crook also cited physical constraints that limit redevelopment potential of the water treatment building site. A significant portion of the property is in the 100-year flood plain, and other parts of the parcel include steep slopes along the Reddies and west of the building.
The old water treatment facility consists of a brick pump station and power house built in the 1930s. The property is now used as a town maintenance and storage facility.
Elks Lodge site
He said 15 to 17 new townhomes and detached garages could be built on the 4.20-acre Elks Lodge property on Finley Avenue, Second Street and Reynolds Road. He said this includes partially demolishing the existing Elks Lodge #1846 building, originally the P. Ward Eshelman house.
“We found that a lot of the new homes being built are outside of North Wilkesboro and that could be captured in North Wilkesboro with the right development opportunity,” said Crook.
The DFI study found demand for 45 residential units within the next five years. The report said “limited projected overall population growth constrains demand for future real estate development.”
The main constraint cited for the Elks Lodge property is steep slopes along the north, west and east boundaries, which Crook said limit developable land to about two acres.
The North Wilkesboro Elks Lodge bought the former Elks Lodge property to be its meeting place in 1955.
A large addition was completed in 1962, bringing the two-story brick building to 7,000 square feet. The town purchased the house and surrounding four-acre property for $200,000 in 2016, partially for consideration as a site for new facilities for the North Wilkesboro police and fire departments.
Reaction to findings
Neil Shepherd, a local real estate developer who was in the audience, told the board that if the town wanted the properties redeveloped, “a guaranteed way to do it is sell it…. If you just put the property up for sale, somebody will buy it and do something with it. Right now, it’s off the market.”
Commissioner Bert Hall asked Crook if he agreed with selling the properties. Crook said he agreed with Shepherd and added, “I don’t necessarily think the town should just throw money at it to solve the problem.”
Hall replied, “If we start spending much money (on the water treatment building), it’ll be like throwing it in that river, in that big hole you’re talking about.”
When Commissioner Junior Goforth asked Crook which property would be more marketable or easier to sell, Crook said the sites are completely different but he would pick the water treatment building property because it’s closer to downtown and is near high traffic volume on West D Street.
Commissioner Joe Johnston said that based on the information about housing demand, he saw more potential in the Elks Lodge property. Mayor Robert Johnson and Commissioner Debbie Ferguson agreed with Johnston.