Mayor: 2010 Focus On Economy

By Alison Lee Satake, posted Dec 25, 2009
The hot seat: Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo says his goals for 2010 include economic development and job creation.

Now that he has won his re-election, Mayor Bill Saffo rolls up his sleeves to dig into this next term’s goals.

With an ambitious slate of projects from small business economic development to downtown revitalization plus a review of the city’s 5-year plan in 2010, it’s a good thing Saffo is one of those people who only needs a few hours of sleep
each night.

The Greater Wilmington Business Journal caught up with the mayor to hear what his plans for the Port City are in the next year.

Mayor: My goals for this next term are, I’m going to be focused very intently on economic development. In particular I think we need a small business incentive plan here in the city, which we do not have. Right now, our incentive is pretty much geared toward larger companies with larger infrastructure and improvement costs. I think we need to focus a lot more on smaller businesses. I think it will help us get out of this recession much quicker. You have a lot of small businesses here that are doing well. And, we need to find ways to help those businesses expand.

GWBJ: Would that be in the form of a tax incentive?

Mayor: Right now we base our policy on job creation. How many jobs are created and the type of investment the company is making as to what kind of incentive we give. For example, PPD was an $88 million investment, a thousand jobs. You get paid something for every one of those jobs. Obviously, we can do the same thing for small business but on a much smaller scale.

GWBJ: What are your other goals?

Mayor: I think the other thing I’ll be focusing very intently on is obviously trying to find a hotel. Not only for the convention center, but in addition to the convention center hotel, another hotel in the downtown area. One of the things that I see is glaring in the city of Wilmington, for the retail operators in the downtown area, is a lack of visitors’ accommodation in downtown. And without that visitors’ accommodation or those hotel rooms in our downtown area to help sustain those businesses down there, it will be very difficult for us to build enough residential condo units down there to make it a 24-hour downtown.
We had a study done when we were talking about building the convention center that had said we needed an additional 500 rooms in our downtown area in addition to the 271 that are at the Hilton Hotel. That’s one thing Savannah has, that’s one thing Charleston has, that we do not have. I’ll be working hopefully with a group of investors who will be coming in here to make that happen.

GWBJ: What are the lessons learned from the convention center process?

Mayor: Anything worth having is worth fighting for. I know this has been very controversial in this community for a long time, even before I was elected to city council or became the mayor. It was something many city councils have worked on for a number of years. I just happened to be in the mayor’s seat when it came into fruition. But I believe we need to build on our strengths. One of our strengths in this community is tourism. It employs over 4,000 people in this community.

What other projects do you think build on Wilmington’s strengths? 

Mayor: I think the Cross-City Trail is an important component to the quality of life that ties in with the Cape Fear Future initiative of what people move to Wilmington for. They move to Wilmington for the weather. They move to Wilmington for the university. They move to Wilmington for the health care. They move to Wilmington for quality of life: beaches, cross-city trail, parks, recreation, Riverwalk. So this is part of the things we need to attract people who not only move here to work for GE or Verizon or PPD, but also people who want to open their own businesses, because it’s an exciting town. And, they are going to be looking for
certain things.
You go to Boulder, Colo. You go to Austin, Texas. You go to some of the dynamic communities in this country and they’re looking for certain things. They have a great nightlife. They have historic downtowns. So I think we can build on what we have here by the policies we put into place: Cross-City Trail, Riverwalk.

GWBJ: What are your political goals? Do you want to run for Senator?

Mayor: If it so happens one day something opens up that I think I could make a contribution at a state level or federal level, I’d take a look at it. Right now my commitment is to the city of Wilmington. The citizens have elected me for another two year term. I’ve considered it, people have approached me about the Senate seat (soon to be vacated) by Sen. Boseman, I haven’t said no completely. But I haven’t really given it the serious consideration, I think, and the commitment it’s going to need for someone to go to Raleigh for those four or five days a week, because it is a very serious commitment.

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