Perspectives Online

The River Runs Through It. A waterfront development plan takes shape in Kinston. By Natalie Hampton.

The Neuse River is one of Kinston's greatest assets as a natural and community resource.
Photo by Becky Kirkland

Kinston has an ambivalent relationship with the Neuse River, which runs right through its core. Through the town's history, the river has served as a transportation and communication corridor, as well as a source of food and recreation. But when the Neuse claimed numerous Kinston homes and businesses in 1999 following Hurricane Floyd, the town's feelings for the Neuse soured.

Today, Kinston is hoping that development along its stretch of the Neuse will lead to renewal. Thanks to a partnership between North Carolina Cooperative Extension, N.C. State University and a local civic group, Kinston has plans for change that capitalize on the Neuse as a natural and community resource.

Last year, Tammy Kelly, director of Lenoir County's Cooperative Extension Center, became involved with the Pride of Kinston, a civic group charged with revitalizing Kinston's downtown. Kelly told the group of an N.C. State program that provided extension and engagement grants for community projects. With such a grant, she knew that planning experts in the College of Design could develop a plan for Kinston.

Lenoir County Extension's Tammy Kelly (right) and Pride of Kinston's Adrian King (left) study plans for renewing Kinston's waterfront areas.
Photo by Becky Kirkland
The proposal to create a plan for Kinston's waterfront area received an $8,000 extension and engagement grant from the university. Celen Pasalar, Extension planning specialist and director of Raleigh's Downtown Design Studio, brought students to Kinston to study possibilities for the town's waterfront and present ideas to the community.

"We are not really using the river, and it's one of our best assets," Kelly said.

Adrian King, head of the Pride of Kinston, agrees. Pride of Kinston's goal is to reinvent the downtown area. Once a thriving shopping district known as "Kinston's Magic Mile," the downtown district has fallen victim to falling local employment and retail development outside of downtown.

A community task force, convened last year by Pride of Kinston, concluded that the Neuse River was one of the town's greatest assets, along with its people and a wealth of available real estate.

"The Neuse River has been part of this town since before it was a town," King said. "It's one of the few rivers that has retained its name from the beginning." In 1585, two English explorers wrote to Sir Walter Raleigh about discovering native Americans living along "a goodly river called the Neuse River."

In 1762, Kingston - named for King George III - was created by the colonial legislature, with the Neuse at its southern border. The "g" in its name was dropped following the Revolutionary War.

Kelly and King intend to continue the momentum of the development project that began with riverfront plans submitted by N.C. State design students.
Photo by Becky Kirkland
When Kelly mentioned to King that N.C. State had a program that could help the town, King liked the idea. As a former foundation manager for The Coca Cola Co. and a public affairs officer in North Carolina's state government, he understood the power of such a partnership.

In November, Pasalar first brought a class of 15 design students into the picture.

"They did tons of research," Kelly said. "They canoed the river and learned about the whole river area."

In February, the design students held a community meeting at the local library to gather public input. Enthusiastic citizens gathered around maps of the river and town to label possible uses for different areas.

The students returned to their studios and divided the river through Kinston into nine design quadrants. In May, they presented their plans for the riverfront.

The students' plans called for expanding a local Nature Center and the downtown Neuseway Park, where summer concerts are held. Citizens were very excited about a proposed footbridge, linking both sides of the river, and a riverside amphitheater. The plan also called for developing an abandoned power plant along the river with stunning architectural features, as well as foot and paddle trails along the Neuse.

"I think our citizens were just amazed at the talent of these students and the wide range of possibilities they came up with for the riverfront, " Kelly said.

To continue the momentum of the developing the Kinston riverfront, Kelly said the project needs a strategic plan, and Extension may be able to help create just such a plan.

Extension's role in the project is a natural one, she said. "Extension knows how to bring people together and help people understand the role of the university in the community."