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Options expanded for business recruitment
by David Leone
WAKE FOREST — What started as a conversation to redefine how board members are selected for the Futures Fund (economic development incentives), grew into questions about how the funds are distributed and to whom they should be given.
Wake Forest Area Chamber of Commerce President Marla Akridge prompted the discussion during Wake Forest commissioners’ retreat Tuesday at town hall by naming the new members of the Futures Fund advisory board and presenting a draft copy of the document governing their decision-making process.
So far the fund has only been used to help the Wireless Research Center startup — to the tune of $1.2 million. Some of that was in the form of grants, but the large portion was taken as a loan. About another $1 million remains, and the center must repay its loan by December 2014.
So far, the center has repaid $9,000.
Based on commissioners’ objections, language in the application process was amended to not limit projects to inside town limits. Now, Mayor Vivian Jones noted, projects could be built just over the border in Franklin County.
Another issue revolved around the use of the term “high-impact economic development.” The document stated that the majority of the funds should go to businesses creating 10 or more jobs with average salaries of $60,000 or more.
Commissioner Margaret Stinnett balked at making the minimum $60,000.
“Is there such a thing as a living wage?” she asked. “There are jobs [paying] $35,000, $40,000 — they may be hard working people.”
Akridge said the $60,000 figure was based on the cost of living in the area.
“I’d just as soon have 50 guys making $40,000 as 10 guys making $60,000,” Stinnett said. “We have people with the town of Wake Forest who can’t afford to live in Wake Forest.”
In response to Stinnett, Deputy Town Manager Roe O’Donnell said the board may choose to consider all wage groups.
Citing application language, when Commissioner Zachary Donahue suggested that the wireless center doesn’t qualify as high-impact because it doesn’t meet one element of the stated criteria: “They haven’t created 10 or more new jobs,” he said.
“They have created 10 or more new jobs, including additional jobs at other companies, Akridge said.
She promised commissioners a list of where those jobs were created, but did not provide the answer Tuesday.
Center director hired
Pam Stevens, President of Wake Forest ARTS, has been hired by the town as director of the Wake Forest Renaissance Centre.
Stevens is already at work planning the center’s opening weekend activities for Nov. 14-16. The Celebration of the Arts includes an opening night gala, a night at the theatre with Burning Coal Theater and music by Marcus Anderson. An earlier suggestion to host a film festival has been nixed due to technical issues tied to the stage and screen at the center, Stevens said.
The proposed uses of the center haven’t changed — the town plans to rent it out for one-time events, for anything from conventions to weddings to nonprofit fundraisers and dance recitals.
Commissioners also directed O’Donnell to purchase beer and liquor sale permits; the bar is left over from the former use — Tuxedo Junction dance club.
To book the Brooks Street site, contact Wake Forest Parks and Recreation. Fees will vary based on use and residency status.
Two candidates for commissioner, Mike Cole and Jim Thompson, both attended the retreat and commented on the center after the meeting.
“The staffing budget is over $120,000 a year, if they don’t get a lot of part-time help,” Cole observed. “That’s $3,000 a week. It’ll have to be open all the time just to break even.”
As a member of the town’s Recreation Advisory Board, Thompson suggested that the $1.2 million to purchase the center could have been better spent, though he added he believes it will be an asset regardless.
“Things the Recreation Advisory Board identified a year ago — a new cover for the amphitheater, spray-grounds for four of our parks, something more at Ailey Young or Taylor Street Park — would have been more on my priority list,” he said.
The road not paved
Last year Wake Forest finished a project to pave all the dirt roads inside town limits. A half-dozen streets and road fragments were left off the list, however.
The residents of Sycamore Street, which runs from South Main Street to the railroad tracks, have petitioned to have their street paved.
The town has about $700,000 in escrow, Wake Forest Finance Director Aileen Staples said. Those funds are earmarked for paving or road maintenance projects only.
Other projects that could use those funds include the rutted section of Caddell Street between Taylor and Spring streets; Dunn Street, the South Allen Road connection to Deacon's Ridge (now blocked off), Rayburn and Brewer streets and the half-block segment of West Juniper Avenue connecting to the Wake Forest Historical Museum.
The county might kick in some funds for Caddell, which town staff are already planning to fix, Planning Department Director Chip Russell said.
Since the funds can be used for repairs, resurfacing the potholed North Avenue (between North Main and Wingate streets) should be a priority, Stinnett said.
Town Manager Mark Williams promised to bring cost estimates for these projects to the commissioners’ Sept. 17 meeting.