Saturday night was supposed to be a party for Central, but rain put a damper on the city's planned 12th annual birthday bash.
The birthday party is a yearly ritual celebrating Central’s 2005 incorporation. Saturday's plans called for fireworks, a rock wall and piles of food in a free event at Central High School’s football stadium.
Then the rains came, forcing officials to put a temporary hold on the event. Details about a possible makeup date have yet to be announced.
But the fact that a party was even planned at all was something of a miracle given what the city and its denizens have been through over the past year.
Central was one of the cities hardest hit by the floods that drowned much of the Capital Region last August. Though only 11,000 houses stand within the city’s borders, officials estimate somewhere between 8,000 and 9,000 homes received at least some water.
In a city where its mayor, Jr. Shelton, once feared people would not return after the flood, recovery efforts appear to be gaining steam, slowly but surely.
“The people of Central are not going to give up,” Shelton said in an interview before the scheduled birthday bash. “They’re going to work it out and make it happen.”
Like any other flood-ravaged city, Central’s biggest issue on the road to recovery is money, Shelton said. Many homeowners are still waiting to see how much in funding they will receive either through government-funded borrowing or private bank loans, leaving many residents and their homes in limbo.
“I’m just afraid folks are going to get disappointed at how little money they’re actually going to get,” Shelton said.
Despite the lack of a cash flow — and the fact that some homes have yet to be gutted — Shelton said city officials have been able to contact all but about 40 homeowners about the status of their flooded houses. And homes placed on the market for sale are getting snatched up quickly, he said.
In other words, the Central housing market is about as healthy as it can be after the flood, Shelton said.
Central’s business sector wasn’t hit nearly as hard as its residential market, Shelton said. He estimated that between 15 to 20 businesses in the city took on water, including three restaurants that have closed their doors.
“We’ve been fortunate in that our businesses were not hurt badly,” Shelton said.
Though progress has been made, there’s still plenty of work left. Shelton said he imagines anything near a full recovery may not materialize until two years after the flood, if not longer.
“I have said that the actual days of the storm, the event itself, was not really the hard part,” he said. “The hard part has been dealing with the aftermath and trying to get people back in their homes and so forth and trying to get money to them.”
To help spur the recovery efforts, city officials are exploring creating an economic recovery district to convince homeowners, business owners or investors to sink money in the city. But that idea has only gained so much traction so far.
“We’re talking with a lot of folks who have been involved in development districts before,” Shelton said. “We don’t know the great need for it yet. We feel like it’s going to be there, and we want to be ready and ahead of it.”
Shelton’s other concerns include what will happen to manufactured housing units — the state’s temporary housing structures for flood victims — that have been set up in the city.
He said the Federal Emergency Management Agency has begun auditing affected homeowners to determine how much progress they’ve made on their homes, which could determine whether they’ll be allowed to keep their MHUs.
“Those MHUs were put out there for at least a year to 18 months,” he said. “You shouldn’t be auditing until you get near the end of that contract time, not before that.”