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Downtown Kinston Revitalization rebuilding after wave of sudden resignations

Courtesy Downtown Kinston Revitalization

A Kinston nonprofit charged with economic development is rebuilding itself after a turbulent month. In early January, most of Downtown Kinston Revitalization’s board abruptly resigned. Now, the organization’s new board is working to put the pieces back together.

The wave of resignations comes after a particularly successful Christmas season. Downtown Kinston Revitalization is a public-private partnership tasked with investing in and promoting downtown, and as a part of that, it organizes the annual Christmas Parade and Tinsel Trail, a weeks-long Christmas attraction in Pearson Park.

"During the 6 weeks that it was lit, we saw 5,000 people walk through the park," Leon Steele, the organization's executive director, said.

Those visitor came from all over the state. The Christmas parade, too, saw thousands of attendees. The hope with these events is that a portion of them stay downtown afterward.

"If you do the math and 10% stay downtown and eat, drink and throw axes at $30 a head, that’s $15,000 in revenues that was not captured in the past," he said.

In the background though, the organization’s board struggled to meet and conduct business, and it had been that way for months. In October, the Kinston City Council sent a letter to the board outlining areas for reform — like frequent turnover, transparency around the use of public funds, and fundraising. Kinston Mayor Don Hardy, who signed on to the letter, says the new board is an opportunity for change.

"My thing is to look at the things three were done, navigate through those waters and hope to never have to deal with any issues of that caliber again," Hardy said. "I believe that what we have now is an actual board that we can get DK where it needs to be. Everyone has to work together for the common good and betterment of DKR, Kinston and Lenoir County."

The board consists entirely of volunteers. In fact, the only staff the organization has is Steele and one part-time employee. Most of those who resigned cited a lack of time. Others for differences in vision and direction. None of those who PRE reached out to wanted to speak on the record.

Following the resignations, the remaining members scrambled to reassemble a board. Last week, in a cramped conference room at the Lenoir County Library, the new board held its first meeting.

"It was longer than usual, but that was because people were wanting to learn more," Steele said.

At the top of the agenda was reforming the board itself. They voted unanimously to reduce the number of members necessary to conduct business from 6 to 3. The reason was to ensure continuity in leadership and to account for the fact that not every member can attend every meeting. Many of the members are part of other organizations – not to mention the few that are business owners.

The new board also chose officers after some of those positions had been vacant for a while. The only actionable item on the agenda was approving language for facade grant applications. Those will go to downtown businesses to improve building exteriors. And this year, that pool of money has tripled, from $3200 to $10,000 per grant.

"$3,200 is not much money when you're talking about working on a building, but $10,000 makes a difference," Steele said. "It’s an incentive, and we need more incentives downtown for that.'

Moving forward, Steele, Hardy and the new board are optimistic.

"It takes time. It takes energy. It takes patience, but I think Kinston is in a good place. A better place than it was 10 years ago," Steele said.

"The thing is you take the punches and move forward," Hardy said. "I believe what we have in place now is an actual board where we can maneuver where we need to be."

Right now, the organization is focused on the facade grants, which will be announced in March, as well as planning for summer festivals.

Ryan is an Arkansas native and podcast junkie. He was first introduced to public radio during an internship with his hometown NPR station, KUAF. Ryan is a graduate of Tufts University in Somerville, Mass., where he studied political science and led the Tufts Daily, the nation’s smallest independent daily college newspaper. In his spare time, Ryan likes to embroider, attend musicals, and spend time with his fiancée.