RDC considering turning health and wellness center property over to city, asks for special called meeting

Empty lots designated for the Health and Wellness Center on Bloomfield Street.
Empty lots designated for the Health and Wellness Center on Bloomfield Street.

The New Bern Redevelopment Commission’s plan to build a new health and wellness center appears to have hit a roadblock as the group considers whether to return funds it received from the city for development of the project. 

In November 2022, the RDC approved a concept plan for a 3,150 square feet health and wellness center with 16 parking spots to be built on RDC-owned property at 908, 910, and 914 Bloomfield Street. The board also approved a resolution for the demolition of a house located on the property. 

During a report at the RDC’s May meeting, Commissioner Tabari Wallace, who sits on the commission’s Health and Wellness Center Work Group, said he was hoping to break ground on the new building by June 30. Wallace said project specifications and schematics had been completed and professional input was being received on the interior of the structure. Wallace said the next step would be to present the project to a contractor. 

But at the RDC’s June 14 meeting, Commissioner Sharon Bryant read a report from Wallace, who was not present, stating that the working group now advised that the board agree to return approximately $350,000 it has received for construction costs and convey the property to the City of New Bern with the restriction that it be used for the health and wellness center. 

“The city has the resources to build and construct the facility more efficiently than the commission currently can,” Wallace wrote in his report. “The city can rent the building to healthcare partners….whereas the RDC cannot.”

Wallace added that the RDC would continue to identify partners to help fund operations and have other important input on the planning process and running of the center. 

Assistant City Attorney Jaimee Bullock-Mosley said she believed the deed restriction would limit usage of the Bloomfield Street property to a health and wellness center.

“Your involvement with how that center operates, I certainly think there would be some inter-agency cooperation between yourselves and the city. If you wanted to formalize that in some type of written document, certainly that could be done,” she told the board.

Assistant City Manager Marvin Williams said the quickest way to get the project off the ground was to convey the property to the city, which has the resources to get the construction started as well as the ability to rent it out, which the RDC cannot do. He said the RDC would remain in charge of deciding who provides services at the facility.

Williams said it was his understanding that if the RDC gave the property back to the city, it would be built to the specifications previously agreed upon by the RDC.

“It’s basically saying what’s the quickest way to break ground and get everything started,” Williams said. “Beyond that the city is going to have someone else doing the legwork and you all will have the responsibility of basically monitoring who brings the programs into the center.”

Most of the RDC members present at last week’s meeting said it was the first time they had heard about the recommendation to turn the property for the project over to the city. 

Commissioner Julius Parham said it had been discussed during meetings between the Health and Wellness Center Work Group and New Bern Mayor Jeffey Odham, City Manager Foster Hughes and Assistant City Manager Williams.

“They explained some options for us to move forward that would help us,” he noted. 

Co-Chairman Kip Peregoy said the proposal didn’t match up at all with previous recommendations from the Health and Wellness Center Work Group, though he later added that it “makes a lot of sense.” 

Commissioner Leander Morgan asked why the board was “working ourselves to the bone” instead of allowing a contractor to present them with a plan based on their specifications.

Commissioner Sarah Proctor also raised concerns about the abruptness of the proposed change in plan. 

“I don’t know how we’d possibly vote on such a big thing without hearing more of the background process, the discussion and having more of our own. I would think we don’t just give away property and give money back without due diligence,” she commented. 

The board agreed to direct staff to set up a special called meeting with the city over the next two to three weeks to provide additional information regarding the proposed health and wellness center. The meeting must be advertised to the public at least 48 hours before it is held.

By Todd Wetherington, co-editor. Send an email with questions or comments.