Rocky Mount reimagining downtown to create 'all-in-one' community on heels of devastating tornado

Sean Coffey Image
Monday, September 18, 2023
Rocky Mount reimagining downtown to create 'all-in-one' community
A historic community in North Carolina is reimagining its downtown area in an effort to create an "all-in-one" community.

ROCKY MOUNT, N.C. (WTVD) -- A historic community in North Carolina is reimagining its downtown area in an effort to create an "all-in-one" community.

City leaders in Rocky Mount said the focus that the city's downtown area is receiving is, in part, because of an opportunity that leaders see there. Mayor Sandy Roberson said it started with the construction of their 165,000-square-foot event center.

"I'm seeing on weekends as many as 8,000, 10,000 people consistently Thursday, Friday, Saturday into Sunday -- and that's impactful," Roberson said.

Roberson said tourism dollars are up 11-12% compared to the years before the event center opened. The center's General Manager, David Joyner, said the effect has been felt among local businesses.

"They stay in hotels, they go shop, they eat at the restaurants and it's consistent. You know, you start January, which is usually a slower month for communities like ours, you know, who rely on that heavy summer tourism. But now is essentially all year long, we have big money coming in the area," said Joyner.

While large employers like Pfizer -- whose plant was ravaged by the devastating, EF-3 tornado that hit the area two months to the day on Tuesday -- have helped grow the local economy. Roberson said turning more of those workers into full-time residents is now the top priority.

SEE ALSO | Pfizer CEO visits Rocky Mount facility damaged by tornado, pledges full pay, support for workers

The Pfizer factory impacted by North Carolina tornado damage makes nearly 8% of Pfizer's sterile injectable medicines used in hospitals.

"We're really excited about all that. But until people move here, live here, and don't commute here, it doesn't really change. It doesn't really create that middle class, the vibrancy that you're looking for," said Roberson.

Roberson said because the tornado mostly spared downtown Rocky Mount, the businesses there were largely unaffected by the storm.

Around the corner from the event center, the new, Five Points Crossing is nearing completion and will offer new downtown options the city hopes will house a growing workforce. A few hundred feet from Five Points is Rocky Mount's newest business: Kafe Louverture.

"We loved that it was a close-knit community that everyone knew each other and actually most of the people that we met, they were into business. They were very excited about rebuilding downtown. And we wanted to be part of that," said Joanne Saget, owner of Kafe Louverture.

SEE ALSO | Boomtown Knightdale building for its future, adding new downtown area as population grows

The Wake County Town of Knightdale has seen its population almost double since 2010 and they're preparing now for future growth.

Kafe Louverture offers Haitian Cuisine from Saget and her husband, Anthony Cunningham -- both successful New York City restaurateurs who relocated during the pandemic. They said choosing Rocky Mount had a lot to do with the city's small business support structure.

"They're investing not only, you know, for their livelihood, but they're investing in the community, they're investing in what downtown has to offer and just want to make it a place that people want to be," said Saget.

Learn more about Boomtowns in central North Carolina.

SEE ALSO | Smithfield seeing 'gradual' growth and planning for future

"People want to be part of a community where people look out for each other."