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Planning Director Laura Elam retires at the end of April leaving a lasting legacy of accomplishments benefitting the City of Lincolnton.
Elam’s work on downtown incentives created millions of dollars of private investment driving the revitalization of downtown. Programs have included building façade grants and upgrades, building rehabilitation & restoration, and assistance programs for small businesses located in the central business district.
These downtown efforts directly led to the addition of notable new downtown businesses. Working closely with Rhonda Hunter at the Lincoln Economic Development Association (LEDA), Elam used a data-driven model to identify gaps and community needs for downtown business opportunities. As a result, Bricktree Brewing Company now occupies the abandoned Eureka Manufacturing Company Cotton Mill / Lineberger Cotton Mill as the city’s first brewery anchoring the ongoing development of East Water Street.
After identifying dining and restaurants as the major gap in community needs, the city purchased the vacant former Lincoln Motor Company building located on the Court Square. Elam created an RFP (request for proposals) to seek a restaurant operating partner for the highly visible location. Local Roots & Provisions won the bid to create a locally-owned full-service restaurant. Elam led the RFP process to find the right partner for the project and worked with the Local Roots team to facilitate the building rehab and upfit with a commercial kitchen, comfortable dining room, and upstairs event space.
In addition to supporting local businesses, Laura has been instrumental in developing upper-level reuse of downtown structures and assistance for upper-level residential living opportunities. She created and managed the RFP for the upper-level reuse of the new Lincolnton Welcome Center designed to spur more downtown living and pedestrian traffic.
Elam also led the development and expansion of the Marcia H. Cloninger Rail Trail system, overseeing Phase 3 to build the trail from Pine Street to City Park. She has worked closely with the Catawba Lands Conservancy and Carolina Thread Trail to acquire land for Phase 4 to extend the Rail Trail from Motz Avenue to the Rhyne Trail on the South Fork River at Laboratory Mill. The Rail Trail is noted as the catalyst for much of Lincolnton’s current renaissance as a business and residential success.
Laura’s work has generated over $1.4 million in federal and state grant funds for Lincolnton. This funding led to the reuse of the former Willowbrook Mill, extensive Brownfield research to identify environmental issues on existing properties within the city limits, and the upcoming installation of sidewalks on East Main Street over Highway 321.
In addition, Elam rewrote and updated Lincolnton’s Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) for the city and its extra-territorial jurisdiction (ETJ) and developed a new city-wide land use plan in compliance with legislative requirements. In 2019 the NC General Assembly adopted a comprehensive rewrite of the state laws relating to planning and development regulations. The new legislation, codified as Chapter 160D of the NC General Statutes, clarified terminology, streamlined procedures, affirmed authority, and incorporated substantive changes. This enormous undertaking was recently completed and presented to the city council for approval.
According to Rhonda Hunter with LEDA, “Laura Elam has been a great asset at City Hall assisting with both industrial and small business economic development projects. Her professionalism, confidentiality, and can-do attitude will be greatly missed.” LEDA’s Kara Brown says, “Laura is knowledgeable, thorough, and capable in her work. Her guidance and leadership gave me confidence in achieving successful outcomes for the City of Lincolnton.”
A search for Laura Elam’s replacement as the Planning Director for the City of Lincolnton is underway. “Laura has been a big part of creating the downtown success that is now Lincolnton, and although she will be hard to replace, she leaves the department in a great position to attract a new, first-class leader for our ongoing planning and development efforts,” said City Manager Ritchie Haynes. He continued, “We thank her for her years of service and wish her the very best in her retirement,” he concluded.
Godspeed Laura Elam, thanks for your contributions and efforts to make the City of Lincolnton a special place.
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