The Rockingham City Council on Tuesday approved a $25,000 loan for Rex Crouch Jr., who plans to open a gym in the spot previously occupied by another gym, Evolution Fitness.
The loan is to be paid back over seven years at 4% interest. The gym equipment will be used as collateral.
The loan is through the Urban Development Action Grant fund, a revolving-door loan for economic development. The fund was established after the federal government loaned money to a local industry for expansion in the 1970s. That money was then paid back to the city to use for loans to small businesses.
Evolution, Simply Chic Boutique and Bold Moves Dance Studio were all awarded similar loans in 2016, and Jeanna Cloninger was granted a loan for the purchase of Dairy Queen in 2018.
City Manager Monty Crump said that all of those loans were current.
The decision was made following a short closed session on the matter.
Crouch could not be reached for comment Tuesday evening.
At one time, there were two gyms downtown. However, Rockingham Fitness closed in 2020 during the government-imposed shutdown and was not allowed to reopen before the death of owner Judy Cagle and Evolution owner Blake Altman moved to another location in 2020.
Council members also voted to extend the lease for Discovery Place Kids for another five years.
The original 10-year lease agreement was signed in 2011.
Per the agreement, the city is responsible for providing and paying for water and sewer, natural gas, electrical and security services, while the museum pays the communication costs.
In a memo to Crump, Discovery Place President and CEO Catherine Horne said the small museum chain “greatly values and appreciates the relationship we’ve developed with you … over the past decade.”
“Thanks to your leadership, Discovery Place Kids-Rockingham has a bright future, despite the challenges we’ve all encountered over the past 18 months,” Horne continued. “We look forward to working with you and your leadership to continue to make Rockingham a vibrant (and) attractive city for people and businesses to call home.”
Crump said part of the original agreement was that the museum had to bring in at least 30,000 visitors per year.
“Several years we surpassed that … and that’s very encouraging,” Crump said, adding that the guests have been from ZIP codes all over the country.
Mayor Steve Morris said when he’s there, he often asks museum attendees where they’re from.
Morris recalled meeting two families from Virginia — one that stopped by on their way back from the beach and the other on their way to the beach.
The mayor called it a “textbook case” of an attraction bringing people to town.
Crump said there was no question that the plan for DPK to serve as an anchor downtown has “been fully realized.
“It was a wise investment then and I think it’s a wise investment now,” Crump added.
The 2013 opening of Discovery Place Kids is often cited as the kick-off of the downtown revitalization spree. Since then, there have been more than a dozen businesses to open or relocate in the stretch between Leak and Caroline streets.
“I think it says a lot about what Discovery Place Kids says for us, about Rockingham, when they come back and want to renew the lease for another five years,” said Councilwoman Denise Sullivan.
Councilman Gene Willard added that DPK is “really a great asset to the city.”
Discovery Place has its main children’s museum in Charlotte and another Discovery Place Kids location in Huntersville.
Prior to going into closed session, Crump talked a little about the hiring process of the new incoming police chief, announced last week as Capt. George Gillenwater.
Crump said there were two well-qualified applicants within the Rockingham Police Department, but it was Gillenwater’s experience in investigations and senior management that sealed the deal.
Gillenwater will be replacing outgoing Chief Billy Kelly, who has been the city’s top cop since 2012. Kelly announced his retirement in August and will be leaving the department in mid-November.
“When I completed basic training in 1992, I was fortunate to come work for the city of Rockingham,” Kelly said. “I really enjoyed my career here. I was able to learn from Chief (Eddie) Martin, which I still call upon today for advice.”
After becoming chief, Kelly said he was also able to learn “quite a bit” from Crump, adding that what he learned has trickled down to Maj. Eddie Grant and Gillenwater.
“I believe Mr. Crump made a very good decision in hiring Capt. Gillenwater and I believe he will build upon the foundation that has been laid over the last 29 years.”
Gillenwater thanked Kelly for putting him in the position to interview for the job, adding that he was “extremely grateful and thankful for the opportunity.”
“I can’t say enough good things about Chief Kelly and what he’s done for this department,” Gillenwater said. “I just hope that I can carry on this tradition and if I can do a little bit of what he’s accomplished, I’ll be successful.”
Also during the meeting, Mayor Pro Tem John Hutchinson took the time to comment on the city’s recently enacted mandatory vaccination policy.
City employees have until Oct. 15 to receive a COVID-19 vaccination. Any city worker not vaccinated by that date must provide weekly test results — on their own time and dime — or exemption documents to their department head and the human resources office.
Failure to comply with the policy “will lead to disciplinary action including termination.”
Crump told the RO on Sept. 1 that about half of city employees were vaccinated, adding that some of those who were had “concerns” about working alongside those who weren’t.
“We’ve always talked about how much we value the employees and want them safe,” Hutchinson said. “Vaccination, I think, is the best way for people to keep themselves from potentially getting sicker should they contract the virus. I also want to be sure, though, that we’re honoring the exceptions that the Constitution provides for sincerely held religious beliefs or other health issues.”
Hutchinson said while the city should aim to keep the employees safe, it should also try to keep them in place.
Crump nodded his head in agreement when Hutchinson mentioned the exemptions.
CORRECTION: Rockingham Fitness was closed and not allowed to reopen during the government-imposed shutdown in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and owner Judy Cagle died before it could reopen. 9:38 p.m. 9-14-21