Canton’s future at stake in the next elections

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That all changed on August 17, when the region woke up to receding floodwaters that had decimated Cruso, killing six people and flooding downtown Canton for the second time in 17 years.

But the issues on Canton’s agenda cannot reasonably be separated into “pre-flood” and “post-flood”. As the recovery continues amid planning for the future, the legacy of Tropical Storm Fred will leave its mark on almost everything the mayor and board of directors consider in the years to come.

“Before the flood, we had worked very hard to push Canton’s return,” said Mayor Zeb Smathers. “The next step, for me, was how to build a hometown of tomorrow, a place where you can live, go to school, have recreational opportunities and call your own, that you’ve lived here all your life. or that you just got here. “

Smathers again ran unopposed, virtually guaranteeing him his second term as mayor of Canton.

Alderman Kristina Smith was the top voter in 2017, beating James Markey by a wide margin. Smith and Markey joined the board, but Markey later resigned before moving outside of city limits. Tim Shepard has been appointed for the remainder of Markey’s term.

Smith and Shepard both hope to retain their seats. Matt Langston, a music producer from Laurens, South Carolina, also jumped into the race, holding a crucial election where three candidates vie for two seats.

Potential winners will have many problems to solve, the most immediate perhaps being the future of the city’s most basic functions – routine government activity and public safety. The town hall was flooded, as were the Canton police and firefighters. All now operate from an ad hoc assembly of trailers, basements and given office space.

“The thinking I’m supporting right now is to assess not just how or when, but whether we need to get them back to where they were,” said Smith, a San Antonio, Texas, communications graduate from Lenoir-Rhyne. “I think the important thing to recognize is that just because we’ve had it somewhere for a long period of time doesn’t mean it has to stay that way.”

Smith as well as Shepard both said they would consider rebuilding the facilities higher up – on top of a parking lot, perhaps – or moving them entirely to another part of town, but both warned that the amount of public and federal funds available would be an important component. factor.

Langston said he was in downtown Canton after the flooding helping clean up, and the experience opened his eyes to the kind of destruction that can occur. Like Smith and Shepard, Langston believes the funding will ultimately decide the issue.

“I feel like I need a lot more information in front of me to be able to give a healthy answer to this,” said Langston, who has a music business degree from Montreat College. “It all depends on where the money comes from and how the whole FEMA thing is going to play out.”

Building the resilience of municipal services is at the heart of what Smathers called “the return of Canton”. Over the past six or more years, the city has experienced a revitalization of its downtown line of business. If Canton continues to move forward, the effects of the flood cannot interfere.

“I think we’re continuing to do the things that have worked for us,” said Shepard, a native of Franklin, a science teacher at Pisgah High School with an MSW from Western Carolina University. “It’s by giving front grants and that sort of thing to new businesses when they open up and trying to induce and motivate business owners to improve their fronts and businesses as much as possible.”

For Smith, working on economic development remains one of his favorite parts of the board. It also supports the city’s incentive program, but for Langston it’s more about the attractions the city has to offer.

“I’m a big fan of the outdoors and this whole region is full of agrotourism,” he said. “I would very much like Canton to become a place that can take advantage of this tourist influx. I was at a meeting this morning with all the small businesses in the downtown corridor. They are forming a 501 (c) (3) and lining up their ducks.

Langston was referring specifically to Chestnut Mountain Park, an ATV reserve of some 400 acres located on the outskirts of town. It is expected to become a regional attraction once opened and will need more accommodation, food and entertainment resources to support it.

“This is something we’re going to have to step up and let people know what’s available in Canton,” said Smith, a marketing strategist for a technology company. “So if people go up to Chestnut Mountain, if they spend five more minutes on the road, we’ve got a lot of economic development that’s happened that they can take advantage of.”

Although not owned by the city, Chestnut Mountain plays a role in the city’s long-term outdoor recreation strategy, which is now of increased importance, as the city’s recreation park was practically destroyed.

All three candidates stressed the importance of making the park more resistant to flooding, such as River’s Edge Park in Clyde; the flood zone is now a park which should not only experience periodic flooding, but which is designed to withstand it.

The final piece of the puzzle – one that has been and will continue to be a puzzle – is the city’s historic colonial theater. Since 1932, the Colonial has held a prominent place in downtown Canton, but just like the municipal building across the street, it has taken several feet of water from the Pigeon River.

After becoming the property of the city, the theater served as a magnificent venue for weddings, parties and the occasional concert, but never really found its full potential. Instead, it has simply become a budget item in the city’s budget, neither flourishing nor failing, but existing in some sort of municipal vacuum.

There were even plans to rent or sell the property, but the city ultimately decided to redouble its marketing efforts and look for other ways to make the place profitable.

Now, the Colonial’s future is even more uncertain. Unlike the town hall, moving the Colonial or “building” is not an option.

“If we can keep it and figure out how to mitigate the flooding within it, if we have another flood like this, then I would like to keep it and continue with the plan that we had in place, which is to seek to get a digital projector and a suitable screen so that we can show movies and so we can have organizations that organize bigger events, ”Smith said.

Shepard is also in favor of finding ways to mitigate flood damage to the building.

Langston, who has spent years in a touring group, sees an opportunity for the Colonial and Canton as a whole.

“I come from a world of live shows, live entertainment, bands and programming, and I love that stuff,” he said. “He is an incredibly important and powerful community builder. As for how to move forward with this building, I would like to have more information or what are the ins and outs of this situation. Obviously, we can’t prevent the flooding from happening, but I think having such a beautiful and historic building and just having the city sitting on it is an absolute waste. I think it needs to be used for something or reused, maybe with someone who has the financial capacity to support it.

The Canton municipal elections will take place on Tuesday, November 2. Early voting will begin on October 14.

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