MEMO TO:           Mayor Barber and Board of Commissioners

FROM:                  Frank A. Rush, Jr., Town Manager

SUBJECT:           “Downtown” Streetscape Improvements

The Board of Commissioners is scheduled to consider three items intended to improve the appearance of the “downtown” streetscape at the November 10 meeting.  First, the Board will formally consider the award of a $45,735 contract for the installation of new decorative street lighting.  Second, the Board will consider authorizing a formal application to NCDOT for 80 new street trees along NC 58 in the “downtown” area and other areas of the NC 58 right-of-way.  Third, the Board will review plans for new “wayfinding” signage (in the “downtown” area and other areas of Emerald Isle).

As you know, the Town has worked hard over the past decade+ to improve the appearance of the entire NC 58 corridor in Emerald Isle, including the “downtown” area.  In my mind, the “downtown” area is defined as the 0.6 mile segment of NC 58 between the new Welcome Center and the Town government complex.  Prior to the early 2000s, this area consisted only of a collection of businesses fronting on NC 58, with no sidewalks or bicycle paths present and very little cohesion to the entire area.  Consistent with the Town’s 2004 Land Use Plan, and in a deliberate effort to create more of a true “downtown” feel, improve aesthetics, and ultimately help the businesses in this area, the Town has implemented several initiatives in recent years, including:

  • construction of sidewalks on the north side of NC 58,
  • construction of the bicycle path on the south side of NC 58,
  • installation of pedestrian crosswalks and pedestrian traffic signals,
  • painting of the formerly yellow curbs to a natural concrete color,
  • creation of the Village East zoning district to encourage quality, mixed-use redevelopment in the entire area,
  • improved landscaping maintenance of the entire NC 58 corridor (to look like a park),
  • encouraged NCDOT to resurface NC 58 throughout the Town,
  • construction of higher quality buildings at the Town complex to anchor the eastern end of the “downtown” (new Town Administration Building and new EMS Station), and
  • construction of the new Welcome Center to anchor the western end of the “downtown” area, along with a new small park feature with cornhole courts, Christmas tree location, and future public art spaces..

Additionally, the Town has requested State funding for the installation of new steel traffic signal poles to replace existing creosote poles and wires supporting the traffic signal at Bogue Inlet Drive (and the Town’s other 3 signalized intersections).  This funding request is pending and is uncertain at this time, however, I remain hopeful that this improvement will also be accomplished in the near future. 

The Town’s efforts over the past decade+ have moved us much closer to the goal of creating a true “downtown” in Emerald Isle, but there is still much work to be done.  The three items presented for Board consideration at the November 10 meeting represent three more deliberate initiatives to enable us to get closer to the overall goal.

Resolution Authorizing Contract for Installation of Contemporary Decorative Street Lighting

The attached resolution authorizes a contract with Carteret-Craven Electric Cooperative for the installation of 37 new decorative street lights along both sides of NC 58 between the Welcome Center and the Town government complex.  The total cost of the new lights is $45,735, and would be funded with reserve funds in the Bicycle and Pedestrian Fund (that are solely derived from donations, fundraising activities, and special event proceeds).

The new lights are contemporary in style, and are identical to the existing decorative lights along the NC 58 bike path between Coast Guard Road and the new Welcome Center.  (See attached photo.)  The new lights are 16 ft. tall, and will be installed approximately every 200 feet in a consistent pattern.  The new lights should significantly enhance safety and aesthetics in this area of Town, and it is hoped that the additional lighting will create a more comfortable environment and encourage more commercial activity in the “downtown” area at night.

The attached aerial photo maps indicate the planned locations for the new lights.  These locations were determined by Carteret Craven Electric Cooperative based on the Town’s goals, the Town’s budget, and the proximity of nearby power sources.  If the Board approves the attached resolution, Carteret Craven will likely install the new lights just prior to Christmas or just after the new year begins.

I have visited most (but not all) of the businesses in this area over the past few weeks, and received a great deal of positive feedback about the proposed new lights.    

Resolution Authorizing Application to NCDOT for New Street Trees Along NC 58

As you know, NCDOT has been a great partner with the Town in recent years on various projects, including the bicycle paths, sidewalks, the Welcome Center, and more.  NCDOT has now indicated that they can provide a total of 80 new trees to the Town for installation along the NC 58 corridor, and the attached resolution formally authorizes the Town to apply for this NCDOT assistance.  The total estimated value of the new trees and the installation labor (NCDOT would install the trees with assistance from Town staff) is estimated at $8,000 or more.

The attached aerial photo maps indicate the proposed location of 47 new trees in the “downtown” area.  These 47 locations were carefully selected in an attempt to provide a consistent look through the “downtown” area but, most importantly, to not block any existing business signs in this area.  It will be essential for the new trees to be installed in such a manner that retains maximum visibility of signs by motorists driving down NC 58.  In most cases, only one or two new trees are planned in front of each business, and the locations are either in relatively open areas away from the signs or are directly in front of the signs that are perpendicular to the highway (to retain visibility of the signs by approaching motorists).

The new trees are planned for a location directly adjacent to either the bike path or the sidewalk, with some on the street side of the bike path or sidewalk and some on the back side.  NCDOT staff have reviewed the proposed locations and have indicated that the locations are acceptable.  Based primarily on survivability, aesthetic, and consistency criteria, NCDOT staff, Town staff, and Yardworks (Chad MacAvery) staff have all recommended the planting of crape myrtle “Muskogee” trees in this area.  (A picture and information sheet is attached.)  The “Muskogee” will be 8 – 10 feet tall at the time of planting, and will be pruned and maintained in a tree shape in the future.  These trees have a relatively fast growth rate, and it is hoped that they will be of comparable size to other crape myrtles in the NC 58 right of way within the next 5 years.

Town staff are extremely sensitive to the concerns of the businesses in the “downtown” area, and truly want this street tree project to be a positive enhancement for their business and the Town.  I have also discussed the street tree project with most (but not all) of the businesses in this area, and also received very positive feedback.  In order to prevent any potential problems, we intend to place a small flag at the planned location of each new tree, and then ask the adjacent business owner to either “ok” the location or place the flag in an alternate location that is more acceptable to them.  Although I suspect that some of the planned locations on the attached aerial photo maps will be adjusted by the adjacent business owners, I remain hopeful that most of the locations will ultimately be planted.

I truly believe the new street trees can be added without harming any businesses, and note that the street tree “look” that we are seeking for each business is similar to that in front of Mike’s Place and the BP / Pizza Inn.  Both of these businesses have had two mature crape myrtles in front for several years, and those businesses have thrived during that time.  We are hopeful that the addition of similar trees in a consistent pattern throughout the whole “downtown” area will greatly enhance the aesthetics of this area.

In addition to the 47 trees planned for the “downtown” area, NCDOT would also provide a total of 33 additional trees to be installed in the 200 ft. wide right of way between Coast Guard Road and the Welcome Center.  These 33 trees would consist of crape myrtle “Muskogee” and also crape myrtle “High Cotton”.  The “High Cotton” variety will initially be smaller than the “Muskogee”.  (A picture and information sheet is attached.)

If the Board approves, NCDOT plans to install the new trees as early as the first week in December.

Planned “WayFinding” Signage

In addition to the proposed new street lights and street trees, several new “wayfinding” signs are proposed for various locations in the “downtown” area and other locations in Emerald Isle.  The intent behind the “wayfinding” signs is both for utility purposes (to direct visitors not familiar with Emerald Isle to significant public facilities) and for aesthetic purposes (to create a banner-like sign with the new Emerald Isle logo and promote the “brand”).

I have attached a sketch of the concept for the proposed new “wayfinding” signs.  The new signs would be approximately 2 ft. wide by 3 ft. tall in the text area, and would also include the new Emerald Isle logo approximately 1 ft. higher.  Notably, the proposed new signs also include the tag line “Nice Matters”.  As discussed previously with the Board, I hope to greatly expand the use of the new logo and the “Nice Matters” tag line in the coming months.  The new signs would be mounted on white vinyl-wrapped posts, with the top of the post approximately 12 ft. high and the bottom of the sign approximately 8 ft. high.  I had initially hoped to simply install the new signs on the same post as the decorative street light, however, I have been advised that these posts are not strong enough to support the signs also.

I envision a total of 15 – 20 signs being installed all around Emerald Isle, with each sign being double-sided and providing an arrow pointing toward three different public facilities.  I envision the following public facilities potentially being noted on these signs:

  • The Point Vehicle Ramp,
  • Coast Guard Station,
  • Station Street Beach Parking Area,
  • Ocean Oaks Park,
  • Emerald Isle Woods Park,
  • Cameron Langston Bridge,
  • Western Ocean Regional Access,
  • Welcome Center,
  • “Downtown” Emerald Isle,
  • Cedar Street Sound Access,
  • “Fishing Pier” (for Bogue Inlet Pier; the only privately-owned facility to be included),
  • US Post Office,
  • Town Government Complex,
  • Community Center,
  • Police Station,
  • Town Administration Building,
  • Blue Heron Park,
  • Tennis Courts,
  • Fire Station 1,
  • EMS Station,
  • Bogue Banks Water,
  • Black Skimmer Vehicle Ramp,
  • Public Boating Access Area,
  • Ocean Drive “Dog-Leg” Vehicle Ramp,
  • Fire Station 2,
  • Eastern Ocean Regional Access,
  • Soundfront Access (across from Eastern Ocean Regional Access),
  • 3rd Street Beach Parking Area, and

also the three most significant Town-maintained streets:

  • Ocean Drive,
  • Coast Guard Road, and
  • Sound Drive.

I am awaiting more artistic versions of the attached concept “wayfinding” sign from two local graphic artists, along with competitive bids for the sign fabrication.  I expect this total cost to be relatively minor, and hope to identify funds in the FY 15-16 Town budget to install the new signs before the 2016 tourism season begins.  I am hopeful that the combination of the new lights, new trees, and new signs will make a nice enhancement to the aesthetic character and quality of the “downtown” area for the 2016 season and beyond.

Although not a part of the items presented for Board consideration on November 10, I am hopeful that the Town may also be able to extend these concepts to Bogue Inlet Drive between the Pier and NC 58 in the future.  The Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee has had some preliminary discussions about extending a new bike path along Bogue Inlet Drive to the Pier in the future, and it may also be wise consider realignment / improvement of the public street at the same time, along with the incorporation of decorative lighting and street trees at that time.

I look forward to the Board’s consideration of this issue at the November 10 meeting.