Garner Mayor’s 2021 State Of The Town Address

Mayor Ken Marshburn has recorded the 2021 State of the Town address. It looks back on the challenges and successes of 2020, and outlines what’s on the horizon as Garner moves forward. You can read his comments below or watch the video.

Greetings to all of our Garner residents, businesses and everyone else who calls Garner home.  As I present our Annual State of the Town message, I want to thank all of you who have offered words of encouragement, acts of kindness, and support for your Mayor and Town Council.As we begin this new year, we can all learn from our difficulties and challenges of the past year, in which we were forced to deal with a devastating pandemic and were called upon to delve more diligently into issues involving racial justice.  I believe we all can be encouraged by the advances of medical science that have generated new vaccines in record time that will potentially save many lives and give renewed hope to so many who have been affected directly or indirectly by COVID-19. And I also look forward to the continuing conversations in our community that can build on our momentum toward greater healing and unity.

I know that some residents and local businesses have struggled during the pandemic. But we will pull through these tough economic times. Indeed, Garner’s long-term economic prospects are bright.  In 2020 the Amazon fulfillment Center on Jones Sausage Road became operational.  The 2.6M sq. ft. facility employs approximately 3,000 workers and is the largest single private employer and taxpayer in Garner history.  The Garner Economic Development Corporation, which oversaw redevelopment of the property, recently won a Cleantech Impact Award from the Research Triangle Cleantech Cluster for its repurposing of that former brownfield site. 

Another indication of our positive economic outlook is the White Oak Innovation Park project, which will be located at the intersection of Jones Sausage and Garner Road.  This project will bring 300,000 sq. ft. of Class A office space to our town.  Approved by our Town Council last February, it will be the largest office park in Garner history and will serve as an impressive gateway into our Historic Downtown Area. 

Downtown Garner also continues to evolve as a hub for creative -class entrepreneurs.  An exciting opportunity for growth is on the horizon as the Downtown Garner Association, working in concert with the Town, seeks a development partner for a 12,000 sq. ft. commercial site on Main Street.  This public-private partnership, which is estimated to bring $10M in private investment, will connect the new Garner Recreation Center with the historic business district and create much-needed space for new offices, retail and other mixed uses. 

Of interest to many of our veterans (and all of us), is the news that Garner has been selected to become the home of the Wake County VA Outpatient clinic.  The facility will be constructed near the intersection of NC50 and Rand Road.  It is expected to employ approximately 400 people and will offer primary care and mental health services to some 25,000 veterans annually from Wake County and surrounding areas.  As we become known throughout the region as a hub for veteran’s health care services it will be yet another validation of our status as an All-America City.

Another obvious sign of business activity in our Town is the growth in residential development.  In the past year the Town Council approved the Edge of Auburn, an 898-unit residential community on approximately 300 acres at Old Baucom and Rock Quarry Roads. Also approved is a master-planned community on Hwy401 near the future 540 beltline which will have over 1,300 residential units consisting of a mix of single-family homes, townhomes and apartments.

To say that our Planning Department has been busy would be an understatement!  This Department has initiated a re-write of our unified development ordinance, a process that involves a committee of residents, business people, and members of Town staff.

We believe that smart planning can bring new opportunities to our Town, but more importantly, smart planning is necessary to provide residents, both new and long-term residents, with the quality-of-life amenities they expect.  During the past year we have initiated planning for developing two parkland properties – the Yeargan property on E. Garner Road and the former Meadowbrook Country Club property off White Oak Road.  We have engaged a consultant and solicited input from residents to learn more about concepts and ideas for best uses of this land.  During the coming year, we expect to share more details about these park projects and other plans to position Garner for the future.

Accomplishments during the past year and new initiatives for this new year of 2021 are due, in large measure, to the dedication and hard work of our Town staff.  It has often been said that the most valuable asset of any organization is its people.  As Mayor, I have had many opportunities to observe, firsthand, how this is true.  A key personnel change during 2020 included the selection of Joe Binns as Chief of Police.  Joe has enjoyed a long career in the department, having started as a police officer in 1993.  He was elevated to the position of Chief last fall following a competitive process that included several applicants, from in-state and out-of-state.  Joe knows our Town well, and we wish him success in this new leadership position.

Garner, like most towns and cities across our nation, has been reminded of the need to work at building a more just and equitable community.  One of the first steps to initiate discussion was a citizen-led vigil held at Town Hall last summer.  Several of our Town officials, including Chief Binns and other members of our Police Department, were present for this event, which brought together several pastors from our faith community along with a cross-section of our residents.  As a follow-up to this event, a roundtable discussion was organized by the Martin Luther King Committee, and some of that conservation was incorporated in the recent virtual Martin Luther King Day Celebration.  We look forward to continuing this important community conversation.

I would be remiss if I failed to mention the passing of two well-known members of our community who, in their own way, served for the good of others, and exemplified in many tangible ways the essence of citizenship.

Ms. Helen S. Phillips, 93 years old at the time of her death, was an icon of the African-American community.  As noted in her obituary, “she loved people, politics, watching the news, and most of all voicing her opinion …”.  She spent many years advocating for the needs of historically underrepresented residents of Garner.  She was a long-term member of the Garner Concerned Citizens United, Garner Community Aid Club, and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Committee.  She also served as a poll greeter for 30 years as she believed strongly in exercising one’s right to vote.

Ronnie S. Williams, Mayor of Garner from 2005-2019, died in September due to complications from Parkinson’s disease.  Ronnie grew up in Garner and graduated from Garner High School in 1966.  Following a time of brief studies at Wake Tech, he was drafted into the U.S. Army and served in Vietnam.  As noted in his obituary, “When he returned from service to his county and to his beloved Town of Garner, he launched a distinguished career of community service.  Few citizens have devoted as much time, energy, and love to a single purpose to up-lift and promote his Town full of caring and good neighbors.  In farewell remarks made in these Council Chambers in December 2019, he summed up his beliefs fully practiced for 38 years in the Town of Garner:  ‘Service is what keeps us going.  Service is what brought us here.  Service is what will keep us here.’”

These two faithful servants leave a strong legacy of service for all of our residents.  The challenge left to all of us is to promote, plan for, and sustain that spirit of community that binds us together.

As we look forward to what this new year has in store, there is renewed hope that the obstacles and constraints brought about by COVID-19 will be diminished and that we can move forward and continue the important work of ensuring that Garner will grow and prosper.  We expect to soon open our new Garner Recreation Center.  This long-awaited facility will increase our indoor recreation programming and provide new services for youth and adults alike.  We are moving ahead with the final planning for two new parks. 

We will continue to work with Wake Transit and GoRaleigh to enhance transportation options for our residents including Bus Rapid Transit. We also remain hopeful that commuter rail will become a reality eventually and that it will include a station stop in Garner.

We will work with NCDOT to continually assess our road needs and be proactive in advocating for road improvements including some bridge replacements, road-widening projects, and the eventual realignment of Jones Sausage Road.  As we move closer to merging the Garner Volunteer Fire Department with the Town, there are plans for building an additional Fire Station 5.  There are a number of other capital needs we’ve identified involving streets and sidewalks as well as critical infrastructure such as stormwater projects.

I want to recognize and thank our Town Council members who are dedicated and diligent in their responsibilities to provide good governance and to ensure that our residents receive the services and amenities that enhance our quality of life. In 2020 we added some new Council members, and it has been pleasing to see this Council work together and build good working relationships. I also want to thank all of our residents who demonstrate through their work, worship, and volunteerism their commitment to making our town A Great Place to Be.

Working together, we can hope and plan for a better and brighter year in 2021.  I ask you to join with us in making that happen.