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Old Fort lands $900,000 grant to upgrade downtown corridor

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Old Fort gets $900,000 grant to upgrade downtown corridor

Throughout 2021, stakeholders from McDowell County, the city of Marion, and the town of Old Fort produced “Destination McDowell,” a 15-year tourism and quality of life infrastructure master plan. The Old Fort Catawba Avenue Streetscape Project is a product of this planning effort and has been specifically designed to improve walkability, attract more visitors, and lead to a stronger business climate.

On Thursday, Gov. Roy Cooper announced the town of Old Fort has been awarded a $900,000 grant during the first funding cycle of the Rural Transformation Grant Fund. This money is intended to upgrade the streetscape of the town and make it more accessible to pedestrians and cyclists.

A total of 30 local governments in rural areas across North Carolina received grants from the fund, a new source of support for rural economic development projects aimed at helping local governments overcome challenges that limit their economic competitiveness. The North Carolina Department of Commerce and its Rural Economic Development Division administers the $48 million grant fund, according to a news release.

Old Fort has been awarded a $900,000 grant for enhancements along Catawba Avenue that will improve bicycle and pedestrian safety and access in the downtown. The grant, which is administered by the North Carolina Department of Commerce, supports upgrading Old Fort’s downtown corridor with crosswalks, bump-outs, pedestrian signals, Americans with Disabilities Act improvements and bicycle and pedestrian facilities that better protect downtown patrons from vehicular traffic.

According to Christopher Guffey with the NCDOT in a letter of support to the N.C. Main Street and Planning Center, “These improvements will create a vibrant and inclusive transportation corridor that connects people to places, serves the existing and planned investments in the area, and fosters community cohesion and a sense of local pride.”

In an excerpt from the grant proposal, “The Catawba Avenue Streetscape Project is anticipated to leverage new private investment in the downtown district that will support small businesses and create new jobs.”

The proposal was prepared and submitted on behalf of the town of Old Fort by Destination by Design, an economic development firm that has been contracted to design and execute the streetscape revitalization project.

Throughout 2021, stakeholders from throughout McDowell County, the city of Marion, and the town of Old Fort produced “Destination McDowell,” a 15-year tourism and quality of life infrastructure master plan. The Old Fort Catawba Avenue Streetscape Project is a product of this planning effort and has been specifically designed to improve walkability, attract more visitors, and lead to a stronger business climate.

Carol Price, executive director for the McDowell County Tourism Development Authority (TDA), said she is excited about the impact that the proposed project will have on visitors to the downtown district.

“This is an exciting time for Old Fort and the TDA is happy to have been a catalyst in the development of this streetscape,” said Price. “In 2021, the TDA invested in McDowell County by producing a 15-year strategic plan, designed to positively impact tourism and quality of life for both residents and our business community. The TDA contracted with Destination by Design and the result is a multi-faceted, capital expenditure investment that includes the Old Fort Streetscape Revitalization Project.”

“We are looking forward to this project’s ability to help further strengthen Old Fort’s growing downtown, which is largely fueled by tourism and the outdoor recreation economy,” said Mayor Rick Hensley. “There is little doubt that investments in our downtown will provide substantial returns, ultimately benefiting both our local community and visitors to the area.”

Additionally, the type of public improvements made possible by this grant present many opportunities for improved health impacts for visitors and residents who will make use of the proposed new pedestrian facilities and the connections to the area’s extensive trail network, according to the news release.

Across the state, The Rural Transformation Grant Fund awarded grants to 30 local governments in three categories:

● The Downtown Revitalization category supports downtown development initiatives that help grow and leverage a community’s commercial core into an asset for economic growth and prosperity.

● The Resilient Neighborhoods category offers grants focused on community development and quality of life improvements, such as eliminating food deserts, creating healthy living initiatives, and increasing access to affordable housing options, among other initiatives.

● The Community Enhancements for Economic Growth category provides grants to local governments to smooth the way for economic development opportunities, such as the acquisition of land and buildings, the preparation of business sites, and the removal of structural and physical barriers that may be limiting development.

“North Carolina’s rural communities are our heart and soul, and we are committed to helping them grow and become more competitive,” said Cooper. “Today’s awards will provide both the funds and the expertise to help transform and expand North Carolina’s rural economies, create good jobs, and strong communities.”

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