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FLETCHER — Mark Biberdorf recalled arriving in Fletcher almost nine years ago to interview for the job as town manager.
He and his wife drove around, looking at nice neighborhoods, the impressive industrial base and extraordinary community park.
"Then I thought, I need to know where Town Hall is, where I'm going to interview tomorrow," he said. "It was just where it said on the Internet, between Blue Sky Café and the Royal Steakhouse. My wife and I looked at each other and said, 'Is this it?' It kind of looks like a Stuckey's."
The new Town Hall is no Stuckey's. It's the most prominent thing you see when you turn off Highway 25 on Fanning Bridge Road toward the railroad tracks and what town officlals hope will become an anchor for more development in a more sharply defined downtown Fletcher.
The town manager's first memory of the old Town Hall was occasioned by the dedication on Friday of the new building. About 150 people gathered in its spacious council chambers on Friday afternoon to celebrate the Town Hall, a 25,000-square-foot, three-story building that cost $9.7 million. Town offcials hope the new town headquarters will become a catalyst for the development of 29 acres of city-owned land in a project they call the Heart of Fletcher.
"People ask, 'Why did you build it so big?'" Mayor Bill Moore said. "We're not looking at today. We're not looking at tomorrow. We're looking at 10, 20, 30, 50 years down the road. This is our future. Highway 25 is going to continue to development, we're going to continue to grow. Henderson County is going to grow, this whole area is going to grow and we're going to grow and be part of it."
The building contains the police department on the ground floor, administration, council chambers and a community meeting room on the second floor and the parks and recreation and planning and zoning departments and a multipurpose room on the third floor.
The Town Council did not get to the ribbon-cutting without some bumps in the road.
"I thought we were going to lose this thing one time," Moore said. "To fund this building we had to up the burden on the town of Fletcher. We raised taxes 5 cents."
It seemed a politically risky decision in the spring of 2010, when the recession still gripped the area and the country. But the council and town manager persevered, Moore said.
"We didn't take no for an answer," he said. "We decided this is what we wanted. We decided this was in the best interest for the future of Fletcher."
The town's taxpayers, he added, willingly paid their property taxes — the town had a 99 percent collection rate — and the new Town Hall belongs to them.
"Anytime anybody wants to come sit in my office, I'll sit with you, or you can have it," he said.
The project suffered a setback when a contractor discovered PCBs at the site of an old log cabin building operation next door to the construction site. The town got help from then-U.S. Rep. Heath Shuler and the USDA Rural Development office. The USDA loaned the town $6.5 million at low- interest, and SunTrust bank loaned $3.2 million.
"I can tell you that there were times when we all thought we should turn back,. This wasn't doable" said Randall Gore, state director for the USDA Rural Development office. "But Mark would not allow us to turn back."
Gore said he was impressed with the standing room only crowd that turned out to mark the building's official opening.
"I'm almost in tears for you," he said. "I'm just so happy to allow you to be part of this. This is your day. This is really big."