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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Koka Booth, July 6, 2004. Interview K-0648. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Cary town council enforces ordinances against local businesses to keep the city beautiful

Booth describes some of the changes he helped bring to Cary in order to realize his vision for the city, including beautification efforts and regulations that forced businesses to contribute to the city's image. He and his peers set out to improve Cary's appearance. The town council's firmness on passing and enforcing a sign ordinance helped shape the city's image by forcing chain stores to make themselves a part of the community aesthetic. Another ordinance required businesses to contribute to a park-creation effort, and the council gave the city's downtown a facelift by removing ugly power lines. Soon, the downtown was growing and developing a "magnificent" park system.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Koka Booth, July 6, 2004. Interview K-0648. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

PEGGY VAN SCOYOC:
Now the sign ordinance made a big difference.
KOKA BOOTH:
I think the sign ordinance was what just made us all, today it makes us different. The sign ordinance was really put together by our business community. I think they implemented the writing of a tougher ordinance than most elected officials would. They took a lot of trashy signs down. If you notice today, the sign can't be taller than the building, colors and things. We've had a lot of comments. When I hear about people wanting to change today, it really is interesting to me because the thing that really made us different and great, and we had really big companies like Phillips 66 and Toys R Us, to really debate a sign. We held our ground, and I think it's made a great improvement. I can tell you lots of stories of meetings with top officials that told us that they were going to do it their way. Let me give you a good example. Where else have you seen a Walmart that is red brick on all four sides with a green and white sign on the front? You don't ever see one. See the difference? That's what I'm talking about. This was the first place in the world that didn't have a McDonalds golden arch.
PEGGY VAN SCOYOC:
Really? And we've got plenty of McDonalds around town.
KOKA BOOTH:
Yes, and that was not easy, but they blend in to the community. I don't think, at the time people would debate we hurt people by doing that. I don't think we hurt them at all. I think we made a better looking place and made them more compatible with the community. I'm really happy to see the way the Town's turned out.
PEGGY VAN SCOYOC:
At one time, about the time of the sign ordinance, didn't you also vote some money to really upgrade downtown? Was that the same time?
KOKA BOOTH:
Yes, we had a bond referenda and as I recall $750,000, and we put in the new lighting systems down there and we put in brick sidewalks. We took the overhead lines which were the ugliest, nastiest electric power lines that you've ever seen and it was just hideous the way it looked. It was removed, put over on the railroad track and revitalized downtown. As I remember, in a short period of time, less than a year or so, about twenty-two businesses popped up down there. Downtown has always, in my opinion, been very very active and people have a lot of interest in downtown, and continues to be. A lot of new structures going down there. I think it's boosted that and it never, in my opinion, never died. I glad of that. I'm proud of downtown. I think there's some things happening like the elementary school, to think it's the oldest public school in North Carolina, can be realized. Revitalizing it, hopefully we can make an auditorium and performing arts center out of that for the children. That would be wonderful.
PEGGY VAN SCOYOC:
Tell me about the changes in the parks and rec?
KOKA BOOTH:
When I moved here, as I remember, we had about seven acres of parkland, which was Mills Field next to Triangle Swim Club, next to the Lutheran church close to the high school. It was a baseball field and as I have been told, it was pretty much developed by the Jaycees. We had a couple little strips of land down in old Cary that were little open space areas, not much. We had an ordinance that required developers to donate a portion of their land to recreation when they built. For instance, like MacGregor and Regency and Kildaire Farm and all those, and acquired a lot of land. Then we went out and bought Bond Park and made a deal with the county that the spillway could be a part of the park. It was so far out that people didn't think it would ever be used. Of course, it's almost in the center of the town now. Not that you're smarter than somebody else, but you have so much more input and you have to have a vision too. I think there was a lot of vision in some of these things and today we have some absolutely magnificent parks in Cary. We do. Thomas Brook Park, the Robert Godbold Park, the Harold A. Ritter Park, Dad Dunham, all of those.