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Greenville Mayor P.J. Connelly speaks at the groundbreaking ceremony for The Jolly Roger Student Living complex on Oct. 3, 2019.

Greenville’s incumbent mayor said strong leadership is needed to continue recent progress in improvements to infrastructure, safety and recreation.

People want to live in Greenville and it's good the city is growing, said P.J. Connelly, who is completing his first term as mayor.

“As a city we do have to be smart and we do have to make sure we are doing it in the best interests of the citizens of Greenville and make sure we make decisions that don’t adversely affect our growth,” Connelly said. He wants to continue infrastructure improvements that will prepare the city for 20 to 40 years in the future. It begins with additional investment in roads, bike lanes, greenways and the stormwater system.

Connelly’s challengers are Renee Boston-Hill, a retired hospital administrator who moved to Greenville from New York, and Demeterius Hicks, who grew up in Greenville and is an operation leader for GOTCHA, a bike share business that will launch later this fall.

Connelly, 36, a father of two, came to Greenville in 2003 to play baseball at East Carolina University.

He played professional baseball from 2005-07 but returned to Greenville with his wife in 2008 and opened a real estate company.

Connelly first was elected to Greenville City Council in 2015, serving a two-year term as the District 5 council member. He won the mayoral race in 2017 and is now seeking a second term.

“I feel like we’ve gotten a lot accomplished over the last two years. I think there has been a lot of good progress that has been made,” Connelly said. “I think it’s important to have strong leadership as we continue to move forward and continue to grow our city. I feel like we have a proven track record of being successful in the position.”

His 2017 platform focused on job growth, improving community safety, infrastructure improvements and improved recreational offerings.

“Greenville is a safe community. In 2018 crime dropped 22 percent. I’m very excited about that,” he said.

Connelly said he wants to work with the City Council to continue providing police with the necessary resources to continue reducing crime.

“I also said I wanted to make sure we are spending tax dollars in the most fiscally responsible manner,” he said.

The city spent $2.5 million during the last two fiscal years on road improvements. The city previously was spending about $1 million a year.

Connelly said the hope is to raise the amount going forward.

“It’s important to show people who may be interested in bringing a business or industry to Greenville that the community is investing in itself,” he said. That investment also has included setting aside money for sidewalks, greenways and bicycle lanes for future highway widening projects undertaken by the state Department of Transportation.

While the state has postponed several projects until 2023, Connelly said the city is prepared.

The city has worked with the private sector to increase entertainment opportunities such as Concert on the Commons, weekday musical performances on the Town Common, and bringing Parmalee, a local band with a national following, to Freeboot Fridays.

Last month, the council purchased for $400,000 163 acres with Tar River access located at the intersection of Old Pactolus Road and Northeast Greenville Boulevard for recreational development.

“I think it’s important to engage the Tar River when creating recreational amenities for citizens of Greenville,” Connelly said said. “I look forward to the opportunity to keep enhancing that.”

Connelly’s top priority during his 2017 campaign was to bring jobs to Greenville.

Establishing the Greenville ENC Alliance, a public-private partnership to promote economic development in Greenville and Pitt County, is part of that effort.

The city and Greenville Utilities Commission each has pledged to contribute $500,000 annually, guaranteeing $5 million in funding over five years for operational expenses. The organization also wants to raise between $2.5 million to $3 million in the same time period for marketing and incentives for new businesses.

The alliance’s formation will benefit all of eastern North Carolina, Connelly said.

“The true meaning of economic development is to improve people’s lives,” Connelly said. “We want to give people an opportunity to go to school in a short period of time, obtain those trade skills that get them into the workforce and be able to get a good quality job that allows them to raise a family on a one-job income.”

During the last two years, the city has spent a total of $35,000 funding workforce training programs through Pitt Community College.

The training has been in the HVAC, electrical and welding fields.

“If we are going to attract jobs to the community, the citizens have the skills to jump right into the workforce and be successful,” he said.

In 2018, the City Council was criticized when it took no action on a report that said the city had too much student housing and not enough market-rate apartments.

Connelly’s challengers said beyond the lack of market-rate housing, the city needs to address the lack of affordable housing for middle-income families.

“The problem right now is there are so many people out looking for houses the inventory is not out there,” Connelly said. A review of city permits and other records show there is a significant increase in resales versus new construction.

“From a market standpoint, that’s great because the homeowners out there are going to see increases in the prices of their homes because there is going to be a little less competition,” he said. But it makes it more difficult for people seeking housing in the $150,000 range.

“It’s getting more difficult as the years go on to build affordable housing,” Connelly said, because of increased labor and materials costs plus increased development costs.

The city can help by making sure its permit fees and building requirements are reasonable, he said.

The city helped by donating city-owned lots in west Greenville to the Greenville Housing Authority so it can build affordable homes. The city also uses federal funding to build affordable housing in the west Greenville revitalization area.

However, Connelly doesn’t want to put local tax dollars toward the construction of affordable housing.

As new businesses open, the city should “... stay out of the way of their growth and allow them to grow so jobs are readily available,” and make sure the workforce is there, he said.

Connelly wants to work with state leaders to ensure state-funded street improvements are completed, starting with Dickinson Avenue’s improvements and continuing with the widening of Evans Street and Fire Tower and Portertown roads.

“One project that I think people sometimes forget is the 10th Street safety project that was put in place a few years ago,” he said. “We have thousands of students who cross over 10th Street every single day. … The last thing we want is a student to be fatally hit by a vehicle because we as the city didn’t take all the steps necessary to keep them safe as they cross the road.”

Connelly also wants the Greenville ENC Alliance to grow and bring success not only to Greenville but Pitt County’s other municipalities.

"I’ve enjoyed the last two years. I think a lot has been accomplished and I look forward to the opportunity to serve the citizens the next two years,” Connelly said.