25 years of reporting in ENC: Remembering my first story
KINSTON, N.C. (WITN) -This year is a special year for me. It marks my 25th at WITN, and thus, my 25th year covering the news for you here in eastern Carolina.
It has been and continues to be, a privilege to be invited into your home every night. Together we have experienced quite a bit over the past quarter-century.
Every month this year I’m going to take a look back at some of the stories I have covered, some of the people I have worked with, and what these past 25-years have meant to me. My actual anniversary date is in March and we’ll hear from some of my former colleagues then. But I want to start by revisiting the first story I remember doing when I moved here in 1997.
My daily beat back then was Kinston and my first story was about an electric loop system the city was working on. It would allow electricity to be sent out in two directions on a loop, so if power was lost along the transmission line, it could be sent out in the opposite direction and minimize disruptions while repairs were being made.
Rhonda Barwick grew up in Kinston and is currently the interim city manager. She recalls that system getting off the ground saying, “They actually ended up with a revenue bond for it between $5 and $6 million to create this loop around the entire city.”
So, 25 years later, whatever happened to that plan?
Barwick says, “It actually was funded and was completed and I found a memo dated 2002 that shows they actually closed out the financial piece of it. The project would have completed probably a few months prior to that. I would say this was a huge project for Kinston. "
And in the years since, Barwick says it has been put to use many times. As it turns out, the loop was the catalyst for electric system upgrades in the city.
Barwick says, " We’ve added a substation since then. We’ve extended the loop to that substation. We’ve extended transmission lines.”
Kinston, like many communities across eastern Carolina, has certainly seen its progress over the years and faces some challenges as well. But it’s also seen a certain rebirth that may have seemed unlikely back in 1997. Perhaps nowhere is that renaissance more evident than with projects like the O’Neil Luxury Boutique Hotel, Mother Earth Brewing, and the Mother Earth Motor Lodge.
Kinston businessman Stephen Hill had the vision to bring those projects to life. “It’s very simple. I love Kinston and I’m from here.”
The O’Neil Hotel, a former rundown bank building, is now a gem like no other, anywhere. Hill says, “That was closed for almost 30-years. It was nothing but a pigeonhole. So seeing it come back to life like it was when I was a child just makes me proud.”
In many ways, the landscape of Kinston has changed since I started reporting there. Mainstays like the Kinston Indians are gone, replaced by the Down East Wood Ducks.
Dupont and other textile industries that built this city have largely faded into history, replaced by a more diverse workforce. Big tobacco is no longer big.
Hurricanes have devastated this city over the years. So much so that some communities are completely gone. Houses were bought out by the federal government with the areas never to be built in again.
And just as the electric loop all those years ago helped power Kinston, many hope that when people look back in a quarter-century from now, it will be the downtown revitalization that provided the spark to light this city’s next chapter.
Barwick says, “I think we’ll see more of the downtown hopefully grow, maybe more companies come into town.
Hill says, “It’s a cool, neat little town.”
Next month I’ll continue my look back at my 25 years of reporting in eastern Carolina with one of my most memorable and impactful stories that helped a family finally get justice in the murder of their loved one.
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