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Council seeks proposals for art district projects, welcome sign

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Greenville Mayor P.J. Connelly snaps a photograph of a recommended design for a new, larger "Welcome to the City of Greenville" sign that will replace the existing sign on Statonsburg Road near Allen Road.

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By Ginger Livingston
Staff Writer

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

The Greenville City Council is weighing the designation of an arts district and construction of a new welcome sign in the coming months.

Council members heard presentations on the two topics during their Monday workshop, held prior to City Council meeting.

Discussions about designating a portion of downtown Greenville as an arts district began in 2016 when the city’s economic development office said it could stimulate tourism and business, said Holly Garriott, director of Pitt County Arts Council at Emerge.

The arts council undertook a study to learn what the local community wants from the arts and to see how the arts contribute to the economies of other communities, Garriott said.

The project included focus group meetings, an online community survey and discussions with the leaders of East Carolina University’s College of Fine Arts and Communication.

“We are the emerald of the East in terms of health care, education and retail … but we are not there yet as a cultural hub,” Garriott said.

Spending on arts events in the community generate about $25 per person, per event, not including the ticket purchase price, Garriott said. In other communities, arts events generate about $31 per person, per event.

Councilman Brian Meyerhoeffer asked if the lower amount is attributable to not having a hotel in the downtown area. Garriott said it is.

The study found the bulk of Greenville’s multiple galleries, museums, theaters, music venues, along with creative businesses such as hair salons, florists and architecture firms, mainly are along Evans and Fifth streets, Dickinson Avenue, ECU’s main campus and a developing area in Higgs neighborhood.

The report has about two dozen recommendations divided between the areas of programming, incentives, public art promotion and governance.

The first recommendation is establishing and naming the Emerald City Arts District. Its proposed boundaries begin at the Town Common extending to the south side of 10th Street and from Albemarle Avenue to east of Reade Street, including the Town Culvert.

It is recommended the district be governed by a committee consisting of representatives from the arts council, Uptown Greenville, the Greenville-Pitt County Convention and Visitors’ Bureau and the city.

Garriott said while ECU’s campus and the Higgs neighborhood are not in the district boundaries, they would be included in promotional materials materials.

Among the other report recommendations:

  • Re-establish the International Festival to highlight the community’s diversity.
  • Improve the facilities of the Town Common amphitheater so performers have space to prepare and there is better lighting and sound.
  • Reconsider making the parking lot at Fifth and Evans streets “more of a central plaza.” Garriott said that right now, the parking lot divides the business districts along Evans and Dickinson Avenue.
  • Modify the Facade Improvement Grant program to add murals to buildings.
  • Allow artists to live and work in the same space.
  • Continue funding the public art program.
  • Expand the placement of sculpture along greenways, including the creation of sculpture zoo near the city dog park.

The city also should discuss with ECU the need for a performing arts center, Garriott said.

Meyerhoeffer said a similar center in Greenville, S.C., was launched with a $10 million pledge from family. Garriott said the private sector will have an important role in a performing arts center.

“My main goal is getting everybody at the same table, on the same page,” she said.

Mayor P.J. Connelly asked Garriott and city officials to develop a priority list of projects that the City Council could review, with an emphasis on low-cost projects that quickly could be implemented.

Welcome sign

The council wants to make an impact on visitors with a larger welcome sign where U.S. 264 Bypass joins Statonsburg Road.

City staff was directed in March to examine different sign styles than could replace the current sign near Allen Road. The sign must be removed when work to widen Allen Road begins.

Public Works Director Kevin Mulligan and consultant Steve Kouroupas, owner-operator of FASTSIGNS in Greenville, said placing the new sign just east of the U.S. 264 Bypass interchange was the best location.

They presented a mock-up modeled after the Richmond, Va., entrance sign. The 30-foot wide sign featured “Greenville” spelled out in 4-foot-tall letters with internal lighting, Kouroupas said. The sign would sit on a 40-foot brick base. There also would be accent lighting surrounding it. The lighting can be designed so the color changes for certain events, such as East Carolina University home football games.

“I think you can make an argument this is our entrance into public art,” Meyerhoeffer said.

Kouroupas recommended the sign be powered by a solar panel. He said LED lighting uses little energy so he doesn’t anticipate needing a large system. While landscaping can shield most of the setup, he recommended keeping the solar panel visible to make a statement about supporting sustainability.

The project’s estimated cost will be $100,000 to $150,000.

Kouroupas said the city will have to hire an engineer to design safety features, such as the sign's ability to withstand hurricane-force winds. The font lettering and other design features also must be finalized.

City Council must see if there is enough money left from the previous fiscal year before deciding if the sign or any of the art district projects are funded in the current fiscal year.

Assistant City Manager Michael Cowin said staff and the council will know more when the city’s fiscal year 2018-19 budget audit is completed next month.

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