Recent news remains filled with commentary on the plight of urban areas be it people affected by homelessness, the opioid crises or an influx of scooters. You name it and the sidewalks of our city centers seem to be overflowing with new and growing challenges. However, this week I was reminded of how collaborative and committed our members are with news from Downtown Wilmington, North Carolina.
Ed Wolverton, President & CEO of Wilmington Downtown, Inc. and his team, along with peer support from his colleagues across the region, weathered Hurricane Florence and quickly positioned downtown for recovery. While the storm made landfall as a lesser Category 1 storm, it hovered over the city for 3 days with cumulative rainfall of almost 24 inches. In Ed’s own words:
“Then, there was the flood risk… The Cape Fear River borders the west side of downtown. Due to all the rain here and up-river, forecasters warned on unprecedented flooding for downtown. History did not support the worry so we had to weigh whether to do nothing and hope we were right or take steps to prevent flooding in case forecasters were right. We decided to act.
“We began working to host a sandbag brigade. We found sand and a place to assemble bags. But, there were only about 200 unused bags in the city. We looked online, but they could not guarantee delivery because of flooded roads. In the long lead up to Florence, I read an article from my colleague Bianca Shoneman in Greenville, NC (and IDA ELF graduate). She helped organize a sandbag brigade for their hurricane prep. It turned out Greenville filled hundreds of bags that ultimately had little use as the storm went further south. They had 12 palates with over 600 filled bags that could be recycled and reused. Bianca found a company with a big rig truck who made the 3-hour haul to Wilmington. I was able to find a route via the State DOT for emergency supplies.
“One of our local breweries had a forklift that we used to remove the palates. Then the real heavy work began – handing out 20 to 40-pound bags of sand. By the end of the first day, 8 palates remained. We put out the word of available bags. When we got back to the site around 10 am the next morning, all the bags were gone and deployed.
“We waited from Saturday until Wednesday, the predicted timeframe for the river cresting. Fortunately, the forecasters were wrong. The flooding that occurred was limited to a portion of one street that floods during some high tides. No damage. While the sandbags ultimately were not really needed, we had to prepare nonetheless. Better safe than sorry. Big thank you to Bianca.
“Meanwhile, the media had a week of stories proclaiming, ‘Downtown is about to suffer catastrophic flooding.’ Hearing that, customers stopped coming downtown for fear of floods. Reporters stood in knee-high water on the one street that flooded for television news stories while literally 20 feet away, people stood off camera on dry ground watching the reporters. Never thought I would utter ‘fake news’…”
Sadly, we have seen numerous times when media misrepresents the impacts of events which result in what is perhaps the most important recovery effort downtown organization must pursue – communicating the truth of what is actually happening in the city center and the case of Downtown Wilmington… Yes, we are open for business! You can see more about how Ed and his city are organizing support for various charities while also bringing residents back into the city by reviewing his month-long campaign called OverFlo. Congratulations, Ed and a special thanks to the many IDA members who reached out in support.