Greenville approves vision for formerly 'dilapidated, hazardous site'

Greenville City Council (Adam Gaub/NewsChannel 12)

GREENVILLE, Pitt County - Greenville is moving forward with the transformation of the old Imperial Tobacco Company processing site between Uptown and West Greenville in a mixed-use proposal that drew praise from most of the council but derision from at least one.

The Greenville City Council voted 4-2 Thursday night to allow partner Development Finance Initiative at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to garner proposals from the development community over the next two months, with the goal of selecting a developer and final plan to bring back to the council by September.

DFI project manager Jordan Jones laid out the proposed vision for the six acres of the land, which the city used federal funds to clean up toxic waste from over the past year to make it usable for development. Councilman At-Large Ron Mercer said the site before the cleanup was "dilapidated (and) hazardous."

"Without getting the public involved, I think we'd still have this hole in the middle of the city," Mercer said.

Jones said the project is envisioned as a mix of affordable housing, retail and office space, along with green space and parking to serve the office and retail portions of the project.

"This is really the city's last major development tract," he said. "We've been talking to 7-8 developers about this project and they are bullish on it as we are."

DFI has undertaken dozens of projects nationwide in a similar fashion in its less than 10 years in existence, including a project occurring now along Water Street in Wilmington.

While most of the council talked about the opportunity possible with a project that could eventually help the city bring in revenues after a projected $5.1 million investment, District 5 Councilman P.J. Connelly was less than blown away by the proposal.

"We're saturating the market" with rentals, Connelly said, blasting the vision for the project as merely continuing Greenville's problem as being a temporary stopping point for college students and others before moving elsewhere. "I don't see any development here. I don't see what is economic development in this project."

Connelly said the council is missing an opportunity to push for projects geared toward helping create jobs that would make Greenville a more desirable place to stay for the long haul.

District 4 Councilman Rick Smiley disagreed.

"We're transforming a currently vacant and empty piece of the city into something extraordinary," he said. "It seems so clear we should move forward with this."

Councilwoman Rose Glover, who represents the district where the project is set to be built, supported the plan, though cautioned she wants to make sure whatever the final plan is brought back to the council doesn't marginalize the lower-income families already living nearby.

"You can do affordable housing and not have it look different," she said, adding that she wants to make sure low-income families are not "squeezed" out of the area for lack of a place to go.

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