Bell will be business friendly to encourage growth
By Seth Thomas Gulledge
The Daily Reflector
Tuesday, October 17, 2017
Will Bell’s commitment to making Greenville home drives his desire to serve District 3 on the Greenville City Council, Bell said in an endorsement interview with The Daily Reflector.
“I’m a homeowner in District 3, I’ve put my roots down, I’ve done my work and investment in the community as far as I doing what I said I’m going to do,” Bell said during the interview on Friday. “I’m sticking here, trying to recruit students to stay here in Greenville after they finish at ECU and Pitt, so I think I’m leading by example.”
Originally from Wilmington, Bell moved to Greenville to attend East Carolina University in 2011. He began working full-time at Southern Glazer Wine and Spirits, where he still works as a salesman. He is still attending ECU part time, taking his last two classes required to graduate. He became a member of the Planning and Zoning Commission in June and purchased a home on Elm Street in July.
Bell, 24, pointed to his experience with the commission as critical to his expanding understanding of Greenville and its issues. Since joining as an alternate, most of the issues discussed have been related to Uptown area and its growth, he said.
“I’m for growth,” he said. “I think it has to be the right kind of growth; you don’t want to do something, kind of like you’re seeing with the culvert system, where growth happened really, really quickly, and now we’re having to go back and work on those things that weren’t taken care of before the growth happened.”
Bell said his familiarity with downtown Wilmington spurred an appreciation for Greenville’s Uptown District. He said improving the district is important for the city’s growth and character throughout. In response to a question about what kind of development these areas need, he said he thinks that should be decided by the those investing in the work.
“The developers I think are going to do a pretty good job with their due diligence and meeting the needs of the market and what’s needed. That doesn’t always happen, but I would like to think there are some smart investors that would do that. If it has to be student housing, and that’s what the need is for, then I understand that, and if it’s going to be market rate, affordable housing, I think that’s also awesome.”
He said that bringing in affordable and market rate housing is important though because it incentivizes are more diverse population. He said diverse housing also helps retain students and draw more business into the areas around it.
In response to a question about preserving the character of older neighborhoods around central Greenville, Bell said that he does not feel it is the city’s place to say. He said he can only speak to his own personal interest in restoring his home on Elm Street, as well as growing up in a historic house in Wilmington.
“Personally I’m a free market guy, if it’s private investment that is going in there, at the end of the day I think it should be their call, I don’t think City Council need to be getting involved in picking and choosing the winners and losers and what happens in what neighborhoods, I think that should be a private market decision,” he said.
An example of this he said is the city’s efforts to revitalize the Imperial Tobacco site on Atlantic Avenue, near downtown and the Dickinson Avenue corridor. The city purchased the site for $1 in 2012 to secure a federal Brownfield grant to clean up the toxic site. The city then paid $1.05 million to fully secure the property in 2016.
Bell said he fully supports the idea that the city should step in when the chance of a developer coming in to clean up a site is so small. He said is is extremely excited that the site is set to be developed soon and thinks it will have a lasting impact on the city.
“I think we have a real awesome chance to have our own blank canvass for once and take stakeholder input from every single person,” he said. “I think everyone needs to have a voice at that table, but I think that we have an opportunity to do something completely dynamic for the city of Greenville. Like I said, it’s a blank canvass, we have an opportunity to write our own story.”
Bell said he would not have supported the 2016 decision to purchase the property. While he thought it was the right decision for the city to clean up the site, the property should have been taken over by private enterprise immediately instead of spending more tax money to guide its development.
“I personally don’t think the city should be in the business of playing Realtor and trying to make real estate deals,” he said. “The city probably made the best choice for going and getting that done, but again my principles are that I believe the free market should be able to dictate what’s needed.”
Bell said he would be conservative about using tax money. The greenway and Town Common he said are extremely important to the city, District 3 and him personally, but expanding the greenway, or building more parks, might not be the highest priority.
“I’m a huge advocate for the greenway system, but there’s a huge sinkhole on the greenway just off Fifth street behind St. Peters that’s been sitting there since Matthew, and nothing has been done about that,” he said.”I think before going out and building greenways everywhere, we need to take care of what we’ve got. You gotta fix your own house before you fix your neighbor’s house.”
He said ideally the city would have enough money to properly maintain the existing parks and still have money to expand, but the council would have to figure out what the priorities are.
Bell said he hopes to use his experience in business and ideals to create a pro-business atmosphere in Greenville, but that he has a lot to learn.
“Working with small businesses across the state, I think that I have a good understanding of what a lot of small businesses in general are looking for, as far as feeling like they’re in pro-growth atmosphere from a city government perspective,” he said. “I think I can take that experience, and experience building relationships with people and understanding that you can’t do everything on your own, and you can’t pretend to know everything ... to go out there and try to build those relationships.”
Bell said if he’s elected he wants to continue hearing from his constituents and will set up town halls each month for them to provide input on his decisions.
”City government shouldn’t be I’m going to go up there and push my agenda, it should be this is what I stand for, and this is what I will run on, but once I’m elected it’s going to go to a town hall format once a month,” he said. ”At the end of the day I’m going to vote the way I’m going to vote, but I’ll still be open to hearing from constituents and understanding everybody’s side. If a 70 percent or 60 percent, or whatever majority of people I’m hearing from are saying they didn’t want this to happen, then we got to go back and look at that.”
Contact Seth Gulledge at firstname.lastname@example.org and 329-9579