Businesses Share Desires for Downtown Spring Lake Development
Drivers who follow a single sign pointing to the heart of Spring Lake find a seemingly barren area that looks more like a ghost town than downtown.
In downtown Spring Lake, tufts of grass grow on a sidewalk that looks like it hasn’t been repaved in years past a long strip of faded storefronts. Some stores, such as a cafe, are now vacant. Others are doomed. One of the few clues of vibrancy comes from the flashing storefront of the Tobacco Station & Food Mart that advertises an ATM and Kool, Camel and Marlboro cigarettes.
Jason Peppers, whose parents own Ocean Fish Market & Fish Fry in downtown, said that since his family opened the restaurant 22 years ago, little has been done in downtown Spring Lake to improve it. He said whether or not development is happening in the city center will depend on leadership.
During this time, the region was the the only major municipality in Cumberland County to see its population decline over the past 10 years, and its property tax ranks the highest in the county at 70 cents per $ 100 of the value of the property. As part of the 2021-22 budget in Fayetteville, the property tax in the city will be approximately 50 cents per $ 100 of property value. The most recent figures from Hope Mills show that the tax rate is 46 cents per $ 100 valuable.
City and county officials see potential for the downtown area and are making efforts to bring development to the city as a whole. The only development item budgeted for this year is a comprehensive new plan, said interim city manager Samantha Wullenwaber, which has not been updated for 20 years.
Spring Lake’s finances put it on the radar of state officials, with an investigation into the missing money in progress by the office of the auditor. A violation of the city’s resolution with the Local Government Commission could place its finances under full state control.
“We are paying the price”: How Spring Lake’s Mismanaged Finances Could Lead to a State Takeover
Wullenwaber said developing the city and increasing the tax base is a priority, and its implementation will be a balancing act given everything the city already has to do.
Meanwhile, 10-year-old former city councilor James Christian is a little more skeptical and says there has to be a vision for the future.
âWho wants to come to a city where the auditors take over? said Christian. “We don’t offer enough incentives. We’re not attractive enough because we don’t work like a well-oiled machine.”
Business in downtown Spring Lake
Inside the Ocean Fish Market & Fish Fry, a bell rings as customers walk through the front door. One Wednesday, a woman removes the scales from a small pile of fish behind the counter while a customer watches a crime drama on a small television in the corner.
While Peppers is talking, a regular arrives. Peppers already knows what he wants and asks if he wants hot sauce on the side before the customer picks up his canned Coke, pays and hits the road.
Business, while slower than before, hasn’t come to a complete standstill due to repeat customers, online promotion and word of mouth, Peppers said. Some customers come since the opening of the place.
But Peppers, who grew up in Spring Lake, believes the city hasn’t put anything in the downtown area when it comes to development and streets. Peppers said he didn’t think they’d been repaved for 12 or 13 years.
In two years, Peppers said, he’s seen five businesses move out of downtown. He said he has constantly seen businesses shut down across town and has seen businesses choose to move to Linden Oaks.
To revitalize the region, he believes that infrastructure must be improved. Signs should show where the city center is and sidewalks need to be repaired, he said. Peppers believe the way the road is currently structured allows people to bypass the area.
âThere are mayors who have come and gone, promised to do things, and that’s how they came in,â Peppers said. âThey didn’t do anything.
Seeing the lack of development in the city center, he wonders where the tax money is going.
âEverything goes up, but nothing gets done,â Peppers said. âSo there is a lack of support from the county and city government. “
In the professional building gang, John Parker runs a computer store called Computer CPR with his brother-in-law. Since the start of the pandemic, he has seen his business change. He said he used to see 10 to 15 clients a day. Now he could see three. Word of mouth helps move business forward, he said.
Parker said some people have expressed interest in improving the area. In his apartment building, he said the apartments upstairs had been condemned because they did not comply with the code. A few people have come with the intention of reopening them, he said, but nothing has happened yet.
Parker believes the area needs to be revived to make it more beautiful in terms of individual buildings so that more people want to do business downtown.
Among the busiest spots in downtown Spring Lake is the Korean restaurant Nat Wok, which sees a constant stream of Fort Bragg soldiers coming in and out for meals.
Ken Hwang, the owner of the restaurant, said many businesses try to get downtown and end up failing, and Spring Lake residents tend to head to Fayetteville. Virtually all of his clients are soldiers, he said.
He thinks there need to be more restaurants downtown to encourage traffic, as more and more people shop online and then people wouldn’t need to travel. But then again, he’s unsure of its success since Door Dash and Uber Eats now have the ability to bring food to the customer.
Efforts to redevelop Spring Lake
Robert Van Goens, President and CEO of Fayetteville Cumberland Economic Development Corporation, said Spring Lake has seen some development in his four and a half years in the region. His group works with the county and its municipalities to help spur development.
Van Goens said that over the years Spring Lake has been affected by the change in security procedures at Fort Bragg that were put in place after the September 11 terrorist attacks and the subsequent hijacking.
Most of the current development, Wullenwaber said, takes place in the Spring Lake Highway 210 corridor. Soon a new Tractor Supply will open, along with a storage facility, she said. Van Goens said some of the bigger projects he’s seen completed are the Courtyard by Marriott and the Common Community Workspace.
âHaving said that, however, I know the leaders out there and the citizens want to see a lot more and want to see further growth and job creation,â Van Goens said. “We want that too.”
Wullenwaber thinks efforts should be made for the city center, but thinks it takes more than one thing to get the neighborhood up and running. She said the effort would be helped if owners kept properties clean and made sure buildings were up to code.
Van Goens said studies have been carried out on downtown Spring Lake and said the city has already applied for a grant for the Main Street plan. He said his organization was ready to help development in this area.
Efforts are now being made in partnership with the Van Goens group as well as the town’s appearance committee. Wullenwaber said Cumberland County is currently working on updating the comprehensive and land use plans for Spring Lake which will include categories such as downtown and economic development as a starting point. Spring Lake does not have an economic development department after the position was cut and consolidated with the general manager position in March, Wullenwaber said.
One effort that can be considered is market research to see what the community wants, but there has to be capacity for development and the region’s infrastructure has to be able to handle it, Wullenwaber said.
Van Goens believes the city has potential, especially for setting up operations related to Fort Bragg. One challenge, he said, is the lack of large sites. Van Goens said this factor may be a reason for attracting smaller operations.
Van Goens said that when companies consider doing business in Spring Lake, they will want to know that there is a plan to fix the city’s financial situation and see that there is a reliable government.
“It’s (…) building that trust with a potential new business from the start that will allow them to overcome that, or at least see the city for what it is in relation to what may have happened in the city. the past, âhe said.
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