St. Pauls poised to take STEP forward

October 10, 2013

ST. PAULS — Town leaders heard a plan on Thursday for improving housing, educational and recreation opportunities, all with the goal of attracting visitors and new residents.

The town’s Small Towns Economic Prosperity Committee made the presentation during the St. Pauls Board of Commissioners’ monthly meeting.

Julia Odom, who serves on the STEP committee, said the three basic strategies are: to attract young families that want to settle in St. Pauls, as well as active-duty military and military retirees; beautification of the town, including the central business district; and improved marketing to draw people off Interstate 95.

“I want to see the kind of St. Pauls when I was a child,” Odom said. “At that time, St. Pauls was a blast.”

The STEP team hopes to use a $100,000 grant from the N.C. Rural Center to fund the effort.

The group plans to make a more formal presentation to the commissioners so a final plan can be approved by the board. Officials hope to have an agreement worked out between the town and the Rural Center by December so implementation of the project can begin in January.

Some of the ways that STEP plans to accomplish its goals are by adding recreational options such as a fitness trial and a bike trail map and the renovation of existing town parks to attract sports tournaments.

“We would also like to develop dog park,” said Sue Hudson, a committee member. “It would be the only one along I-95 between Fayetteville and Lumberton and would be a great way to bring visitors into St. Pauls.”

The group will also focus on housing. There is already a $7,000 study underway to determine the town’s housing needs.

Odom said efforts such as a Yard of the Season Award would help too.

“We want people to take pride in St. Pauls,” she said. “Having neighbors nominate neighbors would be one way to get people involved in the effort to improve the look of our town.”

The plan also calls for establishing a workforce and skills development educational center at the middle school in partnership with Robeson Community College.

The group wants to market St. Pauls as the “little town with the big heart.” Other efforts include improving the website presence of the town and its businesses and promotional brochures at welcome centers.

STEP participants were divided into subcommittees and their task was to identify, develop and recommend projects to the full leadership team. They have been meeting monthly since July 2012.

“Lay leaders not elected leadership have helped drive this,” Hudson said. “All different kinds of people have come together to help us build a better quality of life.”

The STEP program was launched statewide by the N.C. Rural Center in 2006 as the centerpiece of the Small Towns Initiative. The program focuses on ways to help small towns reinvigorate their economies through revitalization efforts, providing information on long-term investments, and connecting the groups with money from the center.

In other business, the board voted to hire a part-time housing code enforcement officer. The town has allocated about $8,000 for the 10-hour-a-week position.

Town Administrator J.R. Steigerwald said there are a number of houses in St. Pauls that appear to be in violation.