When details about the so called "Downtown Catalyst Project" first hit the general public last fall, it is safe to say its opening reception and initial reviews were less than blockbuster. (Read this if you need a synopsis of that early part of this story.)
In fact, the reception was so bad, the presentation had to go back to editing. Town economic development director, Kim Fleming put it another way.
“After the last public input session on October 20, 2015, we realized that there was a need to provide more information and seek more feedback on the Downtown Catalyst Feasibility Study,” said Economic Development Manager Kim Fleming. “We have outlined multiple ways to answer your questions about the study and receive additional input from citizens to help guide the future of the downtown area – we hope you’ll attend one of these sessions later this month.”
The sessions Fleming is referring to are a series of "roundtable" discussions designed for small groups to talk about the project. They are planned for later this month.
Here are the details from the Town's press release.
"Citizens are invited to attend one of four identical roundtable discussions on the Downtown Catalyst Feasibility Study at the Davidson College Presbyterian Church Congregation House (218 Concord Road) on:
· Thursday, February 18 from 9:00 to 10:30 a.m.
· Thursday, February 18 from 6:00 to 7:30 p.m.
· Thursday, February 25 from 11:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
· Thursday, February 25 from 7:00 to 8:30 p.m.
These roundtable discussions are open to the public and we encourage your participation. Citizens will sit at tables and a discussion will be facilitated by town staff, members of the Davidson Board of Commissioners, and the Development Finance Initiative team. Space is limited, so we encourage you to save your space by registering for a session on our website at www.townofdavidson.org/catalyst. Those who are not registered will be accommodated on a first-come, first-served basis."
This all sounds good and Davidson residents should definitely pack these sessions. If they are not a series of full houses, then town residents won't have anyone to blame but themselves for the decisions that are ultimately made.
However like any good "show" , there is a "pilot" before the series kicks off. This show in Davidson is no different.
On February 8th, this coming Monday, there will be a dress rehersal for these open discussions. How that goes could be telling.
Twenty two town residents have been invited to participate in this pilot. Most would be called "insiders" to the goings on at Town Hall. The vast majority of the invitees serve on the town's various appointed auxiliary boards.
When asked about the purpose of the "pilot", Fleming responded that "the purpose of the pilot session is to make sure that the proposed roundtable format addresses citizens questions about the study and provides enough time for citizens to provide feedback about the study. We will spend some time at the end of the session discussing what worked and what didn’t work with the roundtable to see if any changes need to be made for the additional 4 public input sessions."
While it's not necessarily a bad thing to have knowledgable insiders participating in the pilot, the participants also likely aren't representative of town residents at large. So, it will be interesting to see how this goes.
Rusty Knox has been a leading voice opposing the Catalyst Project. He's also one of the invitees to this initial pilot session. Knox had this to say about the makeup of the "pilot" group after seeing the list.
Knox said he feels personally "the list is weighted very heavily towards town hall." Knox goes on to say the list doesn't seem to represent the sentiment seen from the public at the raucous October 20th meeting where nearly every speaker opposed the project.
Davidson has one last chance to do this right. If people feel these meetings are being manipulated or coordinated to achieve a desired outcome, when the curtain finally comes down on this show it won't be pretty.
Let's hope that doesn't happen.