Wanted: ‘Active, engaged, entrepreneurial and working millennials’

Greg Demko
Greg Demko

by Jordan Green

High Point City Council has developed a strategic plan that includes attracting and retaining more millennials, and completing a catalytic project that will stimulate private investment in restaurants and retail, along with housing.

High Point City Council has embraced many of the goals of Andrés Duany, a Miami-based urban planner who created a master plan to revitalize the core city in 2013 and 2014, albeit somewhat belatedly.

In addition to reconstituting a downtown revitalization agency strikingly similar to the entity the previous council sidelined in 2014, this city council has officially embraced three long-term goals that mostly parallel Duany’s vision for a core city with public gathering spaces, year-round retail and restaurants, and an urban aesthetic that appeals to entrepreneurial millennials.

During a retreat at High Point University to develop a strategic plan for the city last month, council members agreed that the city needs to promote an entrepreneurial culture, create a vibrant downtown and improve the small-business sector.

One of the council’s long-term goals, as City Manager Greg Demko reported on Monday-evening city council meeting, is to “increase the population of active, engaged, entrepreneurial and working millennials in High Point by 25 percent.”

A second goal, as Demko articulated, is “to produce a downtown catalyst project that produces 500 private-sector jobs, 15 to 20 new restaurants and shops, 250 additional residential housing units and a centralized gathering space.”

The council has been discussing the idea of building a sports complex with a ballpark as its focal point that would provide a home to the HiToms, a collegiate summer baseball team that is currently based in Thomasville. Funding for the project would likely come from a combination of public and private sources, although a specific financing plan is a long way from fruition.

A third goal of moving to 100-percent proactive enforcement of the housing code instead of being driven by residents’ complaints is more related to stabilizing poor areas of the city than creating a central gather place to revive downtown.

“How we do that is being forceful and more upfront about enforcing our codes,” Demko said.

City council met in closed session before the public meeting to discuss Demko’s annual performance evaluation. After Demko presented the strategic plan, the council voted unanimously to approve a 2 percent merit raise, effective immediately, bumping the city manager’s salary from $171,700 to $175,134. Demko took the position in January 2015.

“The consensus of council is that he has excelled at his job performance,” Mayor Pro Tem Jim Davis said. “We look forward to the implementation of his initiatives, as discussed today.”

Demko’s presentation did not include a target date for when the city should achieve its goal of increasing the number of “active, engaged, entrepreneurial and working millennials” by 25 percent, or spell out what criteria the city would use to determine which members of the age cohort fit the description.

But council members have agreed on a number of short-term objectives to support the long-term goal of increasing the population of millennials.

“Develop a needs assessment to determine how to grow and retain them from now until the end of the summer,” Demko said. “Develop the millennial task force within the next 90 days.”

Mayor Bill Bencini said, “I think the millennial task force is going to be key to the success of this.”

He added that city council’s prosperity and livability committee, chaired by Councilman Jason Ewing should provide oversight of the task force.

Also in furtherance of the goal of attracting and retaining millennials, the city council has set an objective of establishing a downtown business incubator in 60 days.

“I think that might be a little…” — Demko struggled to find the right word.

“Aggressive?” at-large Councilman Latimer Alexander ventured.

“Aggressive!” Demko concurred. “But that goal’s out there, so we’ll continue to monitor how that works. We’ll recruit groups to establish the incubator and identify locations downtown. Measurement? Five locations within six months. Report to the task force, the business community and the council quarterly.”

The Southwest Renewal Foundation had been working on a plan to establish a business incubator but a deal to buy the old NC Shakespeare Festival Building on Ward Avenue fell through last year because the property got tied up in the seller’s bankruptcy proceedings.

Bencini said the strategic plan represents a new sense of shared purpose among members of city council.

“A lot of us up here said a year and a half ago, ‘We want to do this,’” he said. “This council member wants to do this thing, and another one wants to do another thing. I think for the first time I see that council is in agreement on these three definable and measurable goals. I’m excited.”