After hitting several delays, a project to convert a downtown alley into a gathering spot is back on track and should be completed in the next couple of months, members of the Elizabeth City Downtown, Inc. Board of Directors learned last week.

ECDI board members also were advised that two recent city events designed to draw visitors and promote the city — the N.C. Potato Festival and the 26th annual TarWheel Cycling event — were successful. The Potato Festival raised about $45,000 for ECDI, while the TarWheel bike ride had an economic impact on Pasquotank County of about $49,000, ECDI officials said.

Deborah Malenfant, ECDI executive director, gave board members an update on Ives Alley, the more-than-year-old project to restore the space between Arts of the Albemarle and the former Carolina Theatre.

To make the alley an attractive gathering spot, the Albemarle Area Association of Realtors awarded ECDI a $5,000 “placemaking” grant last spring. The project was to include the addition of lighting, seating and public art, including a sculpture of a metal tree.

The lighting and partially completed tree are in place, but the project has hit delays, Malenfant said. In an interview after ECDI's meeting, Malenfant explained that metalwork artist Mike Boyce, who started the metal tree project, suffered an injury that's prevented him from finishing it.

To complete the project, the Realtors' group and ECDI found a new art vendor, Weeksville CNC and Ironworks, plus Dunavant's Welding, of Camden, Malenfant said. The firms plan to finish the project in the next 60 days, she said.

Other parts of the project are also moving forward, Malenfant said. The tabletops and fire hydrant bases are painted and done, and Dunavant will create the tables' midsections and assemble them, she said.

Weeksville CNC will finish Boyce's tree sculpture, including by adding limbs and leaves to it. Malenfant said Weeksville CNC will have the flexibility to bring its “artistic vision” to the sculpture.

Malenfant said the two companies are working at a discount, but she still asked the ECDI board to approve a $2,000 contribution to the project to help with the cost of labor and materials. The board voted to do so unanimously.

In contrast to Pailin's Alley off Colonial Avenue, which was restored as a dining and social gathering spot for neighboring restaurants, Malenfant said Ives Alley is meant to be a general gathering spot for the community. It will be a place for people to sit and share lunch, for instance, and could be part of the monthly First Friday ArtWalks.

With no immediately neighboring restaurants, Ives Alley wouldn't be suitable for alcohol consumption, she added.

Malenfant and other ECDI officials also shared brief updates on other recent downtown events and projects.

ECDI Chairman Tim Williams, co-chairman of the N.C. Potato Festival Committee, said this year's Potato Festival was a major success, thanks to good if hot weather. The three-day festival had good attendance — streets were extremely crowded on Saturday, he noted — and raised around $45,000 for ECDI, he said. ECDI and the Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Tourism Development Authority are still working on estimates of the festival's overall economic impact, officials noted.

The lack of shade during the festival came in for some discussion during ECDI's meeting. Malenfant said organizers will look at tweaking the event's layout next year.

ECDI members also discussed the city's recent TarWheel Cycling event for bicyclists, which was held in April. ECDI and the Tourism Development Authority estimate the event had an economic impact of about $49,000, and a pre-check-in event at Pailin's Alley the night before the ride went well. Organizers are working to schedule another event next year, they added.

Malenfant also reported she's already fielded several calls about the city's Business Improvement Grant program, which offers a total of $80,000 a year to property owners to use fixing up commercial buildings so they can reopen and create jobs. Grant applications for the BIG program aren't due until September, Malenfant noted.

City Manager Rich Olson also reported that lawmakers in the state House did not include $1 million toward buying and cleaning up the Elizabeth City Shipyard property, an earmark proposed by Gov. Roy Cooper in his version of next year's state budget. Olson said the city continues working with area lawmakers to try to get funding for the acquisition.

The ECDI board also heard from Tourism Development Authority Director Corrina Ferguson, who gave an overview of the agency's strategic plan, which includes more, better-targeted marketing of the community and creation of new events to draw visitors.

Ferguson also defended the authority's decision this year to shift funding from what she referred to as “gifts” to nonprofit organizations to marketing efforts. The authority needs to promote the area as a whole and reduce “budget fragmentation,” she said.