October 5, 2017 | Allen Turner
A fall semester postgraduate class at the N.C. State University’s College of Design in Raleigh has proposed several potential plans to renovate flood-damaged downtown Fair Bluff.
Students were asked to come up with their visions for rebuilding the downtown area, and their proposals were unveiled at a meeting in Raleigh last week.
Adam Walters, a graduate teaching assistant in the School of Design, coordinated the meeting, which was attended by four Fair Bluff-area residents but by no officials from the Town of Fair Bluff.
The site boundaries for which students were asked to develop theoretical plans were the riverside of downtown, the area between the river and the buildings on the north side of Main Street from an empty lot beside the N.C. 904 bridge over the Lumber River to the new Town Hall in the former BB&T bank building.
Walters said students were asked, “to extend their design to include the Riverwalk and the adjacent forest land. Students are tasked with creating forward-thinking designs that will help to inspire revitalization efforts in downtown Fair Bluff. This review was the culmination of the conceptual design phase.
Students will now incorporate the feedback they received from the review into a final plan. The remainder of the semester will have them creating construction documents for that plan so that each of the 15 students’ designs should be ready to build if there were funding and support from the town.”
Walters issued a disclaimer that students often create designs that would be too difficult or too costly to implement, so there is not a strong expectation that the designs presented last week will be put in place as they were presented, but he said they could be the start of a conversation about downtown redevelopment.
Concepts ranged from establishing facades of existing old structures behind which a farmers’ market would operate to setting up cabins along the Riverwalk in which “artists-in-residence” could reside.
Four Fair Bluff locals, chamber of commerce President Kathy Ashley, Evelyn Waddell, Carolyn Foley and Gayle Hayes, attended the three-and-a-half hour meeting in Raleigh last week, and they said that many of the design ideas presented look promising but that other ideas were not realistic.
Among other attendees were Lincoln Walter, a certified urban planner who has been retained by the State of North Carolina to work with Fair Bluff in helping come up with ideas to redevelop the town after the flood, Chilton Rogers, director of community engagement for the N.C. Rural Center, Jessica Southwell of the state’s disaster hazard mitigation program, Antonio Rowland and Brandie Haywood of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Robby Layton and Andrew Fox of the NCSU School of Design faculty.
Walther plans to be in Fair Bluff Monday to continue gathering information for a study on identifying techniques to retrofit Fair Bluff to prevent future flood damage and to assess feasibility and associated costs.
All four Fair Bluff attendees at last week’s Raleigh meeting said they were impressed with the designs presented, although they felt some were somewhat unrealistic because, when students were assigned to come up with redevelopment plans for Fair Bluff, they were given no budget restraints. Before plans can be implemented, funding would have to be obtained.
Ashley, the chamber president, said she was impressed to see the visions of young people from outside Fair Bluff.
“It was very interesting,” she said. “Now whether we can get these things done is something else. The students are not involved thinking about funding because their professor told them to go into it like they don’t have a budget and to only think about design.”
Ashley said that some of the proposals would keep existing buildings in downtown Fair Bluff, while others would eliminate those buildings. “Andrew Fox, a professor, said he grew up in a small town of 1,200 people, and he told the students they might want to tone their proposals ‘down’ a bit,” Ashley said.
One proposal that all four Fair Bluff participants found intriguing and financially practical was one student’s idea of putting an amphitheater on the former Scott Chevrolet property beside the existing boat landing on the Lumber River.
They felt that is something that might be doable without being too expensive to become a reality.
“I think you could take some of the concepts they came up with and use them, but not everything, because the funding is not there,” said Ashley.
“I thought their concepts of rebuilding Fair Bluff were very interesting in certain ways,” Waddell said. “Some of them had some ideas that I think were practical and usable, so to speak, but some of them were a little bit far-fetched.”
“The students shared a variety of ideas, shedding a ray of sunshine on a bad situation,” said Gayle Hayes. “It was so good. They were only discussing the riverfront and backstreet behind the stores and, of course, there are a lot of people who are upset about their homes and businesses being destroyed, and you can’t have one without the other.”
“It gave you an upbeat feel that Fair Bluff is not forgotten,” Carolyn Foley said. “I felt like some of the students, the ones who had visited Fair Bluff, were in touch with reality, but some others were not. But they had some really good ideas and I think that, if you took a couple of their ideas and put them together, it would be a good fit for Fair Bluff.”
Foley said that money to implement whatever plans are agreed will be the big issue.
Both Waddell and Foley were critical of the fact that town officials did not attend the session.
“My complaint about that meeting is that none of the powers that be went. It bothered us that, out of all of Fair Bluff, only four women cared to go. We were upset by that,” Waddell said.
Foley was even more emphatic. “It’s worse than a shame that nobody from the town went to the meeting. Here they are, these people in Raleigh, trying to help us and nobody with the town government cares enough to go and see what they’re doing or give them any input.”
Walters said the design group will probably hold another meeting, this time in Fair Bluff, in the near future, and that suits Foley. “I think it would be really good for them to talk to a whole bunch of people in Fair Buff. They need to talk to the ‘Average Joe’ in Fair Bluff.”