Fuscoe and Ewing on High Point council’s decision to cut City Project loose

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The city of High Point has invested a total of $1.9 million since 2008 on City Project, an initiative to revitalize the core city, and private investors chipped in $2.3 million to advance the project.

City council voted 7-2 to eliminate City Project as a division of the city and reclassified the position held by Executive Director Wendy Fuscoe into another department.

Fuscoe reacts in a mass email to Ignite High Point investors:

“For those of you who missed Joe Minicozzi’s presentation on the “Dollars and Sense of Uptowne Development” – we plan to get a full video of Joe’s presentation and will make it available to you.  It was excellent, and as business people, you will find his case for road dieting and investment in the Uptowne district a compelling one as it makes strong, solid economic sense.

“For those of you who don’t get the HPE or read the Triad Beat or aren’t on Facebook and have missed the recent posts, I am saddened to tell you that Monday evening City Council voted 7:2 (Wagner and Moore against) to abolish the City Project Department (Ignite is a project of the City Project) in the 2014-2015 budget.  Links to both articles are below:

·         Council makes City Project split official

·         Stung by Firing Some High Point Citizens Want a New City Council

“I am not a fan of writing long emails, and enjoy reading them even less, but I would like to share my thoughts with you.

“I was hired in Aug, 2008 to implement the Core City Plan, working with a Board of Directors and reporting to the City Manager.  As per the Core City Plan, and with concurrence from the board and the sitting council, the decision was made to focus on three (3) of the eight (8) focus areas identified in the Core City Plan.  The decision was also made to establish a separate entity, a 501c3, but in reality, we have never used that option, channeling all funds through the city and thereby eliminating the need for an outside audit and accounting.  We follow city fiscal guidelines and procedures.  The City Project has truly been a wonderful public: private partnership.

“As the Executive Director, I have guided the implementation strategy and direction.  My board, especially the Chairs (Tom Terrell, Aaron Clinard and Richard Wood) have provided wise counsel, advice, suggestions as well as the public face needed to move a project like this forward.  The face of a city employee in the news and publically advocating for this project would have never gotten us to this point of public awareness.

“In truth, I understand the concern of City Council that the entire core city area (all 11 square miles of it) be given attention and dollars.  Council works to ensure that all of High Point benefit from their tax dollars and they must make tough decisions all the time.  It’s easy for us to decry their decisions, but I haven’t talked to many people who want to run for council or take on the job that they are doing.

“That said, I believe there does need to be focus – and that focus should be on creating an area that is walkable and urban and functions like a “community living room”.  A gathering place for all of High Point to come and walk, shop, live, work and celebrate.  A place that is for everyone, even those who live in north High Point!  The Core City Plan and the Ignite Plan show how Uptowne and areas of the downtown can be those places.  Sadly, the perception is that Uptowne is only for the folks who live in Emerywood.  In truth, Uptowne can be a fabulous place for everyone and as Joe showed us – it makes good economic sense.  Without focus, I feel like funding a position that simply coordinates work in the core city area is ill spent unless project funding is targeted and has an end goal.  The city has limited dollars and limited resources, and it is up to our elected leaders to guide those very difficult funding decisions.

“As for the future of The City Project, we will have a board meeting sometime next week to make some decisions.  The City has approved $35,000 to continue funding The City Project, but at this point, we are not sure what direction it will take.  We would welcome your thoughts.

“As for the City’s budget, public hearings on the 2014-2015 budget will be on Monday, June 2 at 6:15pm and Thursday, June 5 at 9am and of course all are welcome.

“Thank you again for your contributions.  If nothing else, the revitalization of High Point’s urban core has gotten everyone’s attention!”

Councilman Jason Ewing explains council’s decision in a Facebook post:

“I believe some clarification is needed with the current “buzz” surrounding council’s decision Monday night to “dissolve” City Project Department…

“1. City Project, Inc (a 501c3) is not the same as the City Project Development Department (city dept eliminated from ’14-’15 budget)

“2. Council does not have the legal authority to hire/fire any city employee other than the city manager… the reports that we fired the executive director of the City Project are false.

“3. Council directed staff (interim city manager) to remove the ‘City Project Development Department’ from the 2014-15 budget and to create a position (core city coordinator) within an existing city department and to transfer the functions and staff of CPD dept into that new role.

“4. The city is still funding City Project, Inc in 2014-15 budget, as a non-profit (which they are), to the tune of $35k, which includes all currently budgeted expenses with the exception of salary, benefits and office expenses for their executive director.

“5. This move was not an out of the blue decision, council has been discussing it since Jan/Feb. It was around that time that the recommendation was made to the City Project board that they needed to apply for the non-profit grant b/c their organization (501c3) would not be a line item in the next city budget.

“6. Some have said that we do not care about revitalization, however in the last 6 months council has allocated nearly $600k towards revitalization projects (Washington Streetscape improvements, Main St road diet traffic study, PIT improvements) and another $600k (S. Main beautification project) is pending additional staff information before moving forward. Council also directed staff last month to increase the facade grant in next years budget from $25k to $35k.

“If you have further questions, I encourage you to contact your council member and ask them; or feel free to call me (336-310-5006) or stop by my office to chat (665 N. Main St). I welcome any constructive discussion on this topic. Thank you.”