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Vision 2026: One County, Big Plans

By Brittney Murray

Picture this. In addition to Fayetteville’s own Cape Fear Botanical Garden, its renowned Airborne & Special Operations Museum, its notable historic downtown center and its Arts Council, Fayetteville also becomes home to a minor league baseball stadium, a Civil War History Center and a world-class Performing Arts Center.

This is what the founders and board members of Vision 2026 envision in the not-so-distant future—by 2026, to be exact.

It is also what they call a game changer—for all of Cumberland County.

 “A victory for one is a victory for all, and we’re using Vision 2026 as a catalyst for unity,” said John McCauley, Vision 2026’s President, Spokesperson and owner of Fayetteville-based Highland Paving. “We represent all groups from all over. And this is simply where we call home.”

With the goal of providing “cooperative solutions to local issues,” Vision 2026, a non-partisan non-profit, launched officially at the start of the new year.

So, who’s behind this established think tank?

“We’re your friends and neighbors, we’re business people and tax payers,” said McCauley to a swelling crowd of nearly 200 at Vision 2026’s launch party in February. “We got together because we realized, as a county, we’re not reaching our full potential. We have concerns, and we have a vision on how we can make things better.”

At a Crossroad

The Economic Development Alliance of Fayetteville, which officially separated from the City’s Chamber of Commerce in 2015, has a primary responsibility of industrial recruiting for the area. They are also heavily subsidized by local government spending. The Chamber, on the other hand, is fueled by membership fees and focuses more heavily on its charter to provide programming and advocate for existing local businesses.

With their separation, and bonds of a lifetime on the line – in March 2016, Fayetteville was granted a $35 million parks and recreation bond – it was clear to some community activists and business leaders a real need existed to organize and promote economic and cultural development for the city. Several members of Vision 2026 were also members of A Vote for the Parks referendum committee, which raised about $34,000 through the end of February 2016 urging local citizens to support the bond package.

Vision 2026’s board members are community activists in every sense of the word and have put extensive amounts of time and personal contributions towards bettering the community they call home.

And who better to do it than the people who work within its parameters each and every day.

“We started Vision 2026 with a diverse group. It’s made up of past presidents of the Chamber, community volunteers and business owners,” said Ralph Huff, the owner of H&H Homes and the secretary of Vision 2026. “We’re not a political pact. We’re not a for-profit venture. We are an economic development engine. And we know there are huge opportunities on the line for Fayetteville that will benefit everyone.”

And despite years of involvement, the members of Vision 2026 say the time is now. 

“There has to be a monumental shift to make Fayetteville the place to be,” said Huff. “Our children don’t want to stay here, prospective employers don’t want to live here and they’re coming in from all over—they’re coming from Raleigh and Southern Pines—and it’s costing us. We need to change that.”

A Rising Tide 

It was nearly three years ago when rumors about bringing a baseball stadium to Fayetteville turned into conversations about where to put it. Now, with the stadium set to open in 2019 and the Houston Astros to field a Class A Advanced ball club here for the next 30 years, hypothetical conversations shifted to discussions about the revenue this partnership will bring to the area, parking around the stadium, hotel accommodations and other logistics.

Behind the scenes have been people like Huff and board members of Vision 2026.

“To me, it didn’t make sense to put the baseball stadium in a part of town where everyone couldn’t enjoy it,” said Huff, amidst sketches of previously proposed locations of the stadium drawn on scraps of paper at his desk. “It’s a visible asset. Instead of building it and hiding it, put it downtown where people can then go to our restaurants, buy our t-shirts and visit our museums. That’s what Vision 2026 is all about. We’re working behind the scenes to affect these kinds of decisions.”

And there are a lot of decisions of its kind being made these days.

In January of this year, the Cumberland County commissioners voted unanimously to endorse and fund up to $7.5 million for the construction of a state-owned and state-maintained Civil War History Center.

There are also the two senior centers, a Cape Fear River park, a tennis complex, an athletic field complex, seven splash pads, three skateboarding parks and improvements to seven neighborhood parks with the Parks and Recreation Bond Package to think about.

And then, the “feather in the cap” according to Vision 2026 board member, Lucy Jones is the highly anticipated Performing Arts Center.

“Durham went through a very similar transformation with its Performing Arts Center,” said Jones. “Before that, it had a less than reputable downtown, and now look at it. It’s amazing.”

Future Fayetteville

Vision 2026 chose 2026 to include in its name and made it an affiliated target timeline because of Cumberland County's food and beverage tax, which current law requires the commissioners to stop in 2024. It is also when the debt on the Crown Complex, a multi-purpose arena minutes from downtown, will be paid off.

With the non-profit officially filing for establishment in 2016, Vision 2026 gave itself this ten-year timeline to keep some of these key community projects on a deadline. Their foundation is around the Baseball Stadium, the Civil War Center, the Performing Arts Center, as well as two additional pillars, county water and storm water.

With bad wells impacting residential access to safe drinking water and Cumberland County being crippled by storm water regulations non-conducive to the sandy soil much of the region is made up of, Vision 2026 also has these priorities in mind for future projects and initiatives it takes on.

But they are also looking to do one other big thing.

They are looking to spark unity. And not just among the towns within Cumberland County or the diverse population of people who live here – but to ignite the same flame of volunteerism in their younger constituents.

Huff asked those in attendance at the launch party under the age of 45 to raise their hands. Less than one-third of the room had their hands in the air. Huff said he’d like to recognize this group and also challenge them.

“We’re doing all of this for you. We want to make Fayetteville better for you and your children and your children’s children,” said Huff. “And we want you to take a role.”

A Home Run

Lucy Jones remembers attending a ‘wrecking ball party’ in Fayetteville in the ‘80s. The party celebrated the demolition of the “hard night life places” prevalent in downtown at the time.

“It was really wild,” recalled Jones. “But it’s been slow steady progress since then.”

So, what keeps her and her fellow Vision 2026 board members motivated?

If you ask any of them, it’s Fayetteville.

 “Fayetteville is a home community. The military gives it great dimension. It has such a diverse history. It’s interesting and charismatic. And, Fayetteville is welcoming,” said Jones. “It’s just the right size.”

The recent approval for the baseball stadium, which Mary Lynn Bryan, another Vision 2026 board member, appropriately dubbed a “home run” for the city, and all of the other exciting conversations around the future infrastructure changes, has created a real buzz.

But for Bryan, Jones and their fellow board members and officers of Vision 2026, it’s another initiative they are happy to put their endorsement on.

“It’s good to be good to the community that has been so good to us,” said Jones.

To learn more about Vision 2026 or to get invovled, visit www.VISION2026.com.