Drifting toward midnight, Wilmington City Council on Tuesday voted against any immediate support for a widely discussed “regional branding” initiative as proposed.
Instead, the board tabled it two weeks.
The perceived problem with the branding plan–which the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners endorsed unanimously last month–was that it asked for the ultimate support of the area’s elected bodies ahead of any knowledge of the outcome, meaning city council would have already given its support to a product that could, hypothetically, be “just horrible,” as Councilman Charlie Rivenbark put it.
He noted he didn’t think that would happen and he was ready to move forward with the process, which, with the volunteer facilitation of UNCW, would incorporate community and business partners to create a brand meant to attract employers and visitors to New Hanover County and northern Brunswick County. The Napa Valley brand in northern California and Nashville’s “Music City” were cited as examples in the proposal.
But with the concern as pronounced as it was, Rivenbark rounded up a vote to table the matter to council’s Aug. 20 meeting. It passed 4-2, with Councilmen Kevin O’Grady and Neil Anderson dissenting.
Most of the vocalized concern with the plan came from Councilwoman Margaret Haynes, her foremost issue being with the final line of the resolution council was expected to pass Tuesday.
It said the City of Wilmington “recognizes and pledges future support of the outcome as it is for the greater good of the region.”
Facilitators had explained that a variety of community minds–as well as surveys and other scientific approaches–would be involved in the creative process, and that the essence of the request before council on Tuesday was in giving full support to whatever brand they might craft.
But, “I don’t really believe it would be responsible to pledge our support for the unknown,” Haynes said.
The brand that the process shapes for the region could very well be right on the mark, she acknowledged. But, “If they say it’s ‘tumbleweed,’ we have to support it” per the resolution’s wording.
Councilwoman Laura Padgett also withheld support. She was concerned with not only the outcome and the city’s role in it, but also the concept of suddenly manufacturing a brand to stick onto the Port City and surroundings.
“We’ve been calling it the Port City, and that’s pretty descriptive for what we are and come from,” Padgett said. “We’ve been calling it the Cape Fear region for decades.”
People, not studies or economic development initiatives, drive brands that stick so permanently, she opined. “Sentiment is what makes Nashville the Music City. Sentiment is what makes Charlotte the Queen City.”
Roger Johnson, assistant to the city manager for development, couldn’t fully agree, noting the successful Research Triangle Park name was the product of collaboration between scholarly parties, including universities.
“There are historic examples of where a situation and a process of this nature has resulted in the betterment of the region,” Johnson said.
“The Regional Branding Identity Process facilitated by UNCW will consist of groups from around the region,” said a memo from the city manager’s office to city council ahead of Tuesday’s meeting. “UNCW is going to gather data through different means to include surveys, consultant reports, interceptor programs and data mining. This data will be compiled and analyzed by UNCW.”
The findings would go to a Branding Identity Leadership Team, or BILT, comprising members of local civic and community groups, businesses large and small, and organizations specializing in jobs or economic development, among others.
That, according to the information presented to council, would make for a “collaborative effort by the region to have a shared goal of economic development activities that are for the greater good of the region.”
On July 15, when the county commission voted in support, Commissioner Beth Dawson noted some hesitancy in being asked to back an unknown outcome. She also noted other economic development efforts, including those the county has put money toward, that are ongoing for this area. She still lent her vote, among her reasons that she supported the process slated for gathering and analyzing data.
Jenni Harris, UNCW’s assistant to the chancellor for community partnerships, said the other governmental partners–the county’s three beach towns–have already signified support.
“Therefore, it’s important that we have yours as well,” Harris told the city council late Tuesday.
But Padgett said the questions on the table were reason enough to delay the matter; otherwise it would be an approval turned “on a dime.”
Padgett made a motion to put it off until council’s next meeting, on Aug. 20, ideally by which time council would have an amended plan on which to vote.
A rare 3-3 tie–with Anderson, O’Grady and Rivenbark voting no; Councilman Earl Sheridan was absent–caused it to fail.
“That’s interesting,” Mayor Bill Saffo said.
After further discussion and reiterations, Rivenbark offered to reverse his vote, saying nothing would be accomplished by the end of the night.
Instead, he offered a simple motion to table, which the board passed.