Friday, February 12, 2016

Town Hall sales pitch for Catalyst Project in full force. Sign up to have your voice heard!

This week, the Town of Davidson relaunched its sales pitch for the so-called Downtown Catalyst Feasibility Study. That’s the effort to study/plan/propose redevelopment of 3.5 acres of town-owned land surrounding and including Davidson Town Hall.

The renewed effort to sell this to the public has so far included a four page color insert in the most recent edition of The Town Message quarterly newsletter.  That landed in mailboxes this past weekend.  The pitch also includes the announcement of four small group “roundtable” discussions to be held later this month.  There was even been a dry-run of these roundtables held this Monday with a  group of hand-picked residents to help the Town work on its messaging for these later meetings.

All of this is in response to the less than favorable reception this project received when it was rolled out last fall.  The reason for all this effort is described in the four page color insert like this.
“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.”

There is one word to best describe that reason, and that word is “understatement”.  There is another word that can best describe that meeting last October 20th, and that word is “debacle”.  It was a debacle, that is, if the goal was to sell the public on the project’s merits.

During that October 20th meeting dozens and dozens of town residents packed Town Hall to an overflow, standing room only crowd including a couple dozen additional seeds added to accommodate the gathering.  The crowd was so large that one of the consultants from the UNC School of Government’s Development Finance Initiative who was there to present the proposed plan joked that the crowd was evidence of the town needing more space.
It was a joke met with groans rather than laughs.

You see, the people who gathered that night last fall were overwhelmingly against the project as it was being proposed at that time.  Dozens of people spoke, and only a handful (and that’s being generous) spoke favorably of the idea.

Though in fairness, one of the few who spoke in support of the project did provide one of the evening’s more memorable comments.  That’s the speaker who will forever be remembered by those in the room as “The Lamborghini Guy”.

That speaker asked the crowd if they’d noticed all the Bentleys and Lamborghinis in town to dine at the fine establishments on Main Street.  He somewhat lamented where the drivers of those fine automobiles might go if they couldn’t find parking.  Didn’t the town owe it to the restaurants to solve this problem he asked?

The crowd that night was not sympathetic to the plight of Lamborghini drivers.  The crowd was not amused at cheap jokes.

No, the crowd that night was concerned about protecting the character of Davidson.  They were concerned about ensuring the town does not lose that something different it possesses – that something special centered around the town core on Main Street.

So, here we are nearly four months later, and the Town is ready to try again.  To their credit, they are at least making the effort.  But honestly, it’s probably going to be a steep uphill climb.  The kinds of heartfelt positions seen last fall do not change easily.

If done right though, Town Hall should at least get the answers to the many questions they still have about the study – questions that probably should have been answered before the study even started.

Questions such as:
Do you want residential housing downtown?
Do you want a hotel downtown?
Should the town-owned land downtown be developed?
What is an acceptable level of development?

The real trick for citizen will be making sure Town Hall listens once they have the answers  But the first step is to make sure Town Hall has them.  To ensure that, sign up for one of the roundtable discussions planned for February 18th and 25th.

Sign up at
This post first appeared in the Herald Weekly at

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