The strengths, weaknesses, and potential of downtown Union were the subject of a presentation during a special meeting of Union City Council Monday morning.
Robby Moody, Senior Planner for the Catawba Regional Council of Governments, presented “Downtown: The Heart of Union” which provided council with an overview of the downtown area of the city.
The presentation featured a satellite photo of the downtown area with many of its landmarks highlighted including:
Union County Recreation Department
Union County Health Department
Union Mill Apartments and Mill Pond
Wallace Thomson Hospital
Inn at Merridun
Union Mill Site
Union Oil Mill
Corinth Baptist Church
City of Union Municipal Building
Union County Courthouse
Union County School District Office
Park Sterling Bank
Arthur State Bank
Wells Fargo Bank
First Baptist Church
County Office Building
USC Union Central Building
USC Union Main Building
Truluck Activity Center
Adult Education Building
Moody said these and other landmarks make downtown Union “the heart of the community” and “important not only to the city but to Union County.” He added that the location of so many local government offices and departments, banks, businesses, higher educational facilities, cultural centers, and recreational and health care facilities in the area means “if you want to take care of business in Union County you come to downtown Union.”
The presentation began with a look at what the city has accomplished over the past quarter center to maintain, refurbish, and improve the downtown area beginning with the Streetscape Project in the 1990s that included new lighting for and the planting of trees along Main Street. During the 2000s there were facade improvements, the Union Mite Site was cleaned up, and entranceways and wayfinding signs placed.
Assets and Opportunities
Moody also reviewed the downtown’s assets and the opportunities they provide the city and the county. He said they include its overall appearance and small town charm as well as stable community pillars such as local government offices, educational institutions, banks, health care facilities, cultural and recreational facilities.
One thing that makes downtown Union unique compared to the downtowns in other communities is the presence of three banks. Moody that most communities have only one bank in their downtown as most banks in those communities have located outside not only the downtowns but even outside the cities themselves.
“It’s just a quintessential Main Street,” Moody said. “You should be proud of it and protect it.”
Moody pointed out that the downtown area has provided and continues to provide the city with opportunities for development and redevelopment pointing to the Union Mill redevelopment as an example. The city cleaned up the property which had once been the site of the old Union Mill which was destroyed by fire. Since it was cleaned up, the part of the property adjacent to the old Mill Pond has been redeveloped as Union Mill Apartments.
Prior to Moody’s presentation, council voted unanimously to approve first reading of an ordinance authorizing Mayor Harold Thompson to execute an agreement with Quad-State Development that could lead to the construction of a 40-unit apartment complex on an 11.4-acre portion of the old mill property designated as the Union Mill Site. If the project goes through, the city would clear over $200,000 from the sale of the property to Quad-State as well as gain new property tax and utility revenues generated by the complex.
Another example of the opportunities the downtown has provided the city Moody cited was the redevelopment of the old Fairforest Hotel into the Fairforest Apartment Complex. The redevelopment of the old hotel and similar projects involving other buildings in the downtown area to create residential housing facilities has also benefited the city in terms of revenue generation.
Moody pointed out that not only do residential properties generate tax revenue they also bring people back into the downtown area. He said that these residents can and do patronize nearby businesses providing important support for the retail and service business sectors in the downtown area. This support allows the retail business sector, which pays even more in taxes than the residential sector, to grow and flourish, spurring economic development which benefits not only the downtown area but the city as a whole along with the rest of the county.
Another example of an asset that provided the city an opportunity that it recently acted upon is the Farmers Market. The market, which provides local farmers with a venue to sell their harvests to local customers, is now located on Main Street between the YMCA and the Adult Education Building. The Farmers Market relocated there after the city built a new facility for it to occupy, giving the market increased visibility and increased parking space.
Parking space is another asset downtown Union has going for it. Moody said parking is often a challenge for communities which lack sufficient parking space in their downtowns. He said this is not the case in downtown Union which has plenty of parking space which helps make it more attractive for people to come and do business there. The abundance of parking space, however, is not as well known as it should be and Moody said the city should work to increase public awareness of this as part of its efforts to market the downtown area.
A potential asset for the city is the old Train Depot which Moody said could be acquired by the city for redevelopment. He described the depot as “a tremendous opportunity” for the city, pointing out that other communities that have acquired the train depots in their downtowns have redeveloped them for use as restaurants, museums or other attractions that can and do bring people downtown. This in turn not only supports the business or other facility located in the old depot, but the other businesses already located in the downtown as well as helping attract new business to the area.
By Charles Warner, Staff Reporter with The Union Daily Times