Town of Spencer is one of 30 communities awarded Transformation Grants to boost local economies

Funds will go toward park project
The funds will be used towards a new park project.
The funds will be used towards a new park project.(WBTV File)
Published: Jun. 17, 2022 at 6:41 AM EDT
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SPENCER, N.C. (WBTV) - The Town of Spencer is one of 30 communities across North Carolina awarded grants from the Rural Transformation Grant Fund, a new source of support for rural economic development projects in North Carolina funded by the federal American Rescue Plan.

Spencer’s award of $900,000 makes it one of 15 communities receiving funding in the Downtown Revitalization Category. The Town’s application was part of a strategy to assemble funding for the proposed central Town Park.

A cost estimate is described as a phase 1, totals approximately $1.2 million, with a lengthy list of Add Alternates totaling nearly another $1.1 million. The base bid includes the main elements within the park footprint including a lawn and open air-pavilion with restrooms. It leaves some decorative elements (such as a water feature and substantial brickwork), additional restroom capacity, and upgrades to the parking lot areas (both near the park and elsewhere in the Park Plaza shopping center) as alternates or for a future phase.

This cost estimate is split into Phase 1 and add/alternates because we also are awaiting results of a PARTF grant application of $500,000 (dollar for dollar match is required for this funding). Our hope at the time of applying for both grants was that a successful PARTF grant would allow us to fund everything in the Phase 1 base bid, and success in the Rural Transformation Grant would go a long way in helping us cover the items beyond the Phase 1 base bid estimate.

“We greatly appreciate being selected for this opportunity, which is a significant milestone towards our goal to build a half-acre park in the core of downtown Spencer,” said Town Manager Peter Franzese in a news release.

Franzese said the park will be built on a portion of the site of a historic park that occupied the entirety of the west-side of the 400 block of South Salisbury Avenue from 1926 until 1963, when the Park Plaza shopping center was constructed. The Town of Spencer purchased a portion of the property in 2019 and the process of redeveloping the former A&P Grocery Store space to a new Spencer Town Hall and Police Department began in earnest.

Initially, efforts were made to combine the adaptative reuse of the building with the construction of a connecting greenspace, but the cost was the proposed park was financially prohibitive. The construction proceeded at the beginning of 2021 without the park, and we moved in at the end of 2021.

A generous gift from the Foundation for the Carolinas, Fred Stanback Donor Advised Fund provided the funds necessary for the development of the 2022 Spencer Parks and Recreation Comprehensive Plan and the Town Park Master Plan, which were critical steps to pursuing grand funding such as this.

Mayor Jonathan Williams credited Mr. Stanback for continuing to invest in Spencer and laying the foundation for great things to come. “Mr. Stanback’s belief in Spencer’s vision has led the way for others, including the State of North Carolina, to believe in what we are doing. Our theme for this year is ‘this is our moment,’ and he is truly helping us rise to the occasion. We sincerely appreciate his support, along with this tremendous investment of the Rural Transformation Grant Fund, and all those near and far who are supporting our efforts to build a model small town community.”

Franzese said that Spencer envisions the Town Park as a unifying space that will help organize and support the business community’s efforts to capture the energy and imaginations of Spencer residents and visitors alike. Already, Spencer citizens are focusing on the possibilities of increased commercial investment, more restaurants and shops, better pedestrian amenities, connections to trails and bicycle lanes. 

In addition to the pursuit of Town Park, the Town has increased funding its Commercial Grant program through a Duke Energy Foundation Hometown Revitalization Grant. Also, a local non-profit organization “Friends of 8th Street Ball Park” was created and is actively restoring the iconic, 84-year-old Sparger-Noles field and grandstand that is within walking distance of the downtown core. The Fred and Alice Stanback Educational Forest is on-track to double in size, providing a large network of primitive, woodland trails eventually connecting to the Salisbury Greenway and the Carolina Thread Trail Corridor.

The Town is preparing to accept bids for construction of the Yadkin River Trailhead, which will connect Rowan County to the Wil-Cox Bridge and Davidson County’s Yadkin River Park.

“The Spencer Town Park will be a hub that allows movement through the community and connects neighborhoods and people to services and amenities,” Franzese said. “The possibilities are endless, and the creation of the Town Park is essential to fulfilling the community’s vision.”

Several neighboring communities in Rowan County also received Rural Transformation Funding, including East Spencer and China Grove (previously announced in a category awarded in May), and Salisbury who was included in today’s announcement.

A map of all awardees so far is available at: https://files.nc.gov/nccommerce/documents/Rural/Map-Awardees-RuralTransoformGrants-asPublished_061622.pdf

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