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ED group charts Murfreesboro’s future

MURFREESBORO – &uot;We’ve just begun the fun,&uot; said Murfreesboro resident Walter Thomas.

Having come together for yet another session of brainstorming, the Murfreesboro Economic Development Task Force met Thursday to continue its discussion on ways to maintain the forward momentum of economic development in downtown Murfreesboro.

At the last meeting, Chairwoman Lynn Johnson commissioned select Task Force members to construct a mission statement and set forth a list of goals on which the group would focus.

The mission statement, which read, &uot;The Economic Development Task Force is a public/private partnership dedicated to enhancing the economic growth and quality of life in Murfreesboro by recruiting new businesses, retaining existing businesses, and expanding the town by assisting current businesses and organizations&uot; cited researching and fulfilling the town’s economic needs, promoting current and future businesses and linking educational, civic, historical, religious and municipal avenues as its main objectives.

&uot;I think they did a tremendous job,&uot; Johnson said.

As members of the Task Force considered different businesses it might want to attract, the discussion again turned toward the need for additional hotels/motels.

&uot;The relocation of Dockside to Main Street may draw visitors from Suffolk and Franklin, but we need to have something else for them to do once they get here,&uot; Thomas said.

Task force member Dave Fisher agreed. &uot;Having a decent restaurant is great, now all we need is a nice place for them to stay.&uot;

In light of the national exposure generated by the Watermelon Festival, growing participation in other annual events and increased student enrollment at Chowan College (70% since last year), the subject of adequate lodging was definitely high on the list of priorities.

According to Sara Ward, Director of College Relations for Chowan, the college has typically had to refer parents of prospective students to Ahoskie for lodging due to the area’s limited facilities.

&uot;We have to capitalize on what we have and right now the college is our industry,&uot; she said.

Johnson also suggested painting some of the buildings downtown.

&uot;When you look like you’re taking pride in your town, it causes a ripple effect,&uot; she said. &uot;Even if it’s something as seemingly insignificant as putting a fresh coat of paint on our fire hydrants it reflects the level of pride we take in our community which in turn causes others to take pride as well.&uot;

Johnson cited the waterfront town of Beaufort as an example of what the town could see in coming years if it remained committed to the task. &uot;Beaufort has more traffic because it’s on the water, but we can certainly model their efforts in the revitalization of our storefronts,&uot; she said.

During the meeting, members were asked to evaluate items or activities unique to the town to help in its promotion to potential tourists and rattled off several items for consideration including peanuts, watermelon, sweet corn, herring, barbecue, pigs, chicken, venison, strawberries and finally The Red Apple.

&uot;The Red Apple was a renowned restaurant that burned down years ago,&uot; explained Johnson, noting that patrons used it as a stopping point during their travel from New York to Florida.

&uot;Everyone knew what The Red Apple was,&uot; said Kenneth Britt, who was in attendance for the first time at the meeting.

&uot;When I was in Germany, and people would ask where I was from and I would tell them Murfreesboro, they would immediately say, ‘oh, you’re from the home of The Red Apple’. It was just amazing,&uot; he said.

&uot;Who knows, maybe the answer has been under our noses the whole time,&uot; Johnson said, adding that it might be the hook the town was looking for.

Moving a step further, Murfreesboro Town Councilman Bill Stephens suggested soliciting grant money for research and development to help the town get moving in the right direction.

&uot;Maybe we could use that grant to employ somebody that is familiar with ventures like this and that has the experience to help us put our ideas in motion,&uot; Stephens said, noting the possibility of using some of the resources available to the town through East Carolina University.

When asked whether they felt the community was interested in becoming part of their efforts, several Task Force members said they sensed a spirit of reluctance.

&uot;They seem interested, but I get the feeling they think that it’s above their heads, so they’d rather ask us about what’s happening rather than get involved themselves,&uot; said Gloria Thomas.

Johnson stated for reasons of taxes, citizens ought to be concerned about what is going in the town’s development and hoped that more people would attend the meetings.

&uot;I don’t think they realize they play a very important part in this process,&uot; she said.

The group plans to employ some of its members in the grant writing process in preparation for future applications/requests.

&uot;They don’t necessarily have to have experience in the area, they just have to be willing to participate,&uot; she said.

The next meeting will be held at 7 p.m. April 14 in the Chowan Room on the backside of the Chowan College cafeteria.