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The Viking Way: Banners effort to cement stronger ECSU-city ties

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Shown are examples of the kinds of images Elizabeth City State University hopes to post on a series of banners along "Viking Way," the stretch of Southern Avenue between the G.R. Little Library and the Shepard Street intersection, which functions as a gateway to the downtown district near Elizabeth City's waterfront. The banners, which ECSU hopes to post before the April 9 launch of Viking Fest, are designed to demonstrate closer ties between ECSU and the city.

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By Reggie Ponder
Staff Writer

Thursday, March 8, 2018

The April 9 launch of the 2018 Viking Fest is right around the corner and Elizabeth City State University is racing against the clock to unveil new Viking Way banners in time for the annual celebration.

“It’s a tight timeline right now,” Russ Haddad, special assistant to the chancellor at ECSU, said Tuesday, referring to the effort to secure funding for Viking Way banners and get them produced in time for an unveiling during Viking Fest.

The rough estimate right now for producing 30 banners is $5,000, according to Haddad. The university is looking for businesses that would like to donate to the project because there is no funding for the promotion in the university’s budget, he explained.

Viking Way is an idea developed by ECSU and city of Elizabeth City officials for upgraded sidewalks along Southern Avenue between the G.R. Little Library on campus and the Shepard Street intersection, which functions as a gateway to the downtown district near the waterfront.

In addition to having a well-constructed sidewalk on the same side of the street for the entire stretch — currently the sidewalk shifts in spots from one side of the street to the other — the plan calls for banners on utility poles along the corridor that celebrate the university and the city.

Haddad said the proposed Viking Way, which would create an intentional pedestrian link between the ECSU campus and the downtown district, is part of the larger “Paint the Town Blue” initiative that seeks to strengthen the ties between the university and the town.

The effort is modeled after campaigns in other college towns, such as “Paint it Purple” in Greenville, which celebrates East Carolina University. Purple is the color of the ECU Pirates and Viking Blue is the signature color of ECSU.

“You always hear people say, ‘Why can’t we be more like Greenville?’” Haddad said. “This is a way to start doing that.”

Another part of the initiative around Viking Way and Paint the Town Blue is to identify businesses that will offer discounts to ECSU students, and possibly also faculty, staff and alumni, on a year-round basis. Haddad said there already are a number of businesses that offer discounts during ECSU’s Homecoming but the push now is to have year-round discounts.

In turn, he said, the university can help promote the businesses by identifying them as student-friendly and supporters of the university.

Haddad said the discounts would be available to students who show their student ID card. The program could help businesses quantify the actual benefit of ECSU students as customers, he explained.

“It kind of makes an economic impact study more personal instead of being just a bunch of numbers,” Haddad said.

Also in the works is a survey to determine what kinds of additional businesses students would like to see in the community. The survey runs through March 15 and the findings are expected to be released to the public in late March or early April.

The idea of a pedestrian link from campus to downtown has been discussed over a period of years by city leaders, including former Mayor Roger McLean and former 2nd Ward Councilman Tony Stimatz.

But the current push started in May of last year when former Mayor Joe Peel brought up the Viking Way idea at a meeting of the Elizabeth City Historic Neighborhood Association. From there, discussions continued among Haddad, Elizabeth City Community Development Director Matthew Schelly and Elizabeth City Public Utilities Director Joseph Pearce.

ECSU students, including art students but also students from other programs developed Viking Way banner concepts that were unveiled at a reception at Arts of the Albemarle during the First Friday Art Walk in December.

“It was a way to include the students in the project,” Haddad said.

The banner images include everything from a Coast Guardsman to a moth boat to ECSU Viking football to jazz to a portrait of Chancellor Thomas Conway.

“We really wanted iconic images that represent both the city and the university,” Haddad said. “The students really did a great job of picking those iconic images.”

The banners are designed with city-themed images on one side and university-themed images on the other. A dozen images have been developed so far and Haddad said the plan is to amass a “library of images” and change the banner designs twice a year in conjunction with Viking Fest and Homecoming.

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