Written by: Elizabeth Blevins
Earlier this week I met with Lone Survivor Foundation (LSF) Board President, Tim Byrom. Byrom intended to be here two weeks ago, but like so many of us, his plans were altered by Hurricane Florence. Now that he’s here, he’s wasted no time getting to business. He walked the site of Lake Bed #2 in Hope Mills, then made an official offer. Byrom presented Town Manager Melissa Adams with an earnest money check and an official offer to buy approximately 12 acres of lake bed #2.
If their offer is accepted LSF will build a 10,000 square foot facility and offer retreats to veterans suffering from PTSD, traumatic brain injury and military sexual assault. LSF’s flagship facility is in Crystal Beach Texas. Coincidentally, Crystal Beach was ravaged by a hurricane prior to LSF building there. The facility has proved to be a huge boost to the local economy and has attracted both businesses and organizations who respect LSF’s mission.
Members of the Hope Mills board have wavered in their support of the sale. A Public Hearing was scheduled for mid-August, then cancelled for the Board to view the preliminary results of the McAdams Group Comprehensive Parks and Recreation Master Plan. Some members of the board indicated they thought the plan would pair specific pieces of property with specific types of recreation. There was also a concern the town didn’t have enough property to develop for recreation throughout the ten-year period the plan covers. Neither proved true.
Rachel Cotter, Project Manager for the McAdams Group, walked the board through the plan during a 2 ½ hour Special Meeting held October 1st. Cotter stressed that many municipalities have had success in partnering with other organizations, like the YMCA, school boards and veteran organizations, to achieve their goals and offset costs. She also discussed economic development in Hope Mills. Recreational areas tend to attract business, but she cautioned that lake bed #2 wasn’t suitable for developing or attracting businesses. And there was a great deal of conversation about the amount of land the municipality owns and what’s needed to fulfill the 10-year plan. Initial estimates indicated they would need to purchase an additional 15 acres, but more town owned properties were identified. They have that 15 acres, plus an additional 60 more. Essentially, they have a surplus of properties and can continue to develop parks and recreation land as the town’s population grows for another 20+ years. Finally, she reminded the board several times that our community is predominantly made of veterans who need to be taken into consideration when planning.
This board has struggled with internal issues and at times it seemed as if LSF was a pawn in their political games.
LSF partnered with Robert Van Geons, the President and CEO of the Fayetteville Cumberland County Economic Development Corporation (FCEDC) to search for suitable land. Teddy Warner is the Director of Business Development for FCEDC and the Mayor’s son. This August, FCEDC announced they’d brokered a deal to bring Booz Allen Hamilton, the technology and management consulting firm, to Fayetteville. With a five-year plan, they’ll create 208 jobs and invest more than 5 million dollars in this project.
Despite their tremendous professional successes, Van Geons and Teddy Warner were accused of colluding with Mayor Warner, who doesn’t have a vote on the board, to close this deal. Mick Nolan, an executive at PWC, was pulled into the controversy when he was asked about the old surveys indicating lake bed #2 might be a potential reservoir, then insulted when his response was hidden from the public and the community. And Rachel Cotter was insulted when board members couldn’t contact her as quickly as they would have liked.
Each of the issues identified by board members have been addressed and disproved. With this new offer from LSF, the board has an opportunity to put their personal grievances and agendas aside. They owe it to the valued members of our community, to come together to consider what’s best for our town. And LSF is best for our community. During our meeting, Tim assured me the organization plans to contract with local companies during the building process. The facility will be staffed by local people and filled with furniture they source locally. And they’ll shop locally to feed the men and women who attend the retreats each week. Even our regional airport will benefit…LSF provides more than 40 retreats a year with approximately ten people per retreat, who fly in from all parts of the country.
No one expects the board members to set aside their differences indefinitely and work together (although it would be nice). But I am suggesting this is the time to remember who you serve…. not you and not a single individual. Consider that Hope Mills has had NO opportunities for economic development in more than 150 years. Consider the relationships we can build through this partnership. And consider the revenue this will provide, and how much it’s needed. In short…actually consider this offer.