Gene Merritt didn’t plan on spending three years in Whiteville.
When he came to the city in October 2015, the theninterim executive director of the Whiteville Downtown Development Commission planned to work for a year or so until the city found someone to permanently replace the late Tom Stanley.
Merritt submitted his resignation to the WDDC this week, citing “expanded personal and business commitments” in Wilmington.
“Tom Stanley was a good friend of mine,” Merritt said, “and I wanted to keep his work moving ahead in Whiteville.”
As he spent more time here, Merritt said he became more involved in the community and wanted to see Whiteville meet its full potential.
“I can certainly say that I really like the City of Whiteville and the fine people who live here, and I have certainly enjoyed working here.”
Merritt played a major role in the continued redevelopment of downtown Wilmington, including the restoration and reuse of several waterfront buildings deemed unsalvageable by city officials. A tireless proponent of historic preservation, Merritt brought his love for historic architecture to Whiteville. He was a leader in the ongoing efforts to establish a historic district in the city, both to preserve classic architecture and encourage developers to take advantage of tax rebates for restoring old buildings.
Merritt recently proposed that the city combine the positions of WDDC Executive Director and manager of Vineland Station with a new economic development position in the city government. The WDDC board endorsed that proposal Wednesday at the same meeting they accepted his resignation.
He noted that combining the posts will create a full-time job for someone in a better position to assist local businesses as well as prospective investors in the city.
“The response to this idea has been good, and the city manager and his staff favor the proposal,” Merritt said. “The city council, in their recent strategic planning session, determined economic development is the number one priority for the future.” Merritt said he will miss Whiteville, but he will not be a stranger.
“Who knows?” he said. “I may come back here myself, as a business owner and investor, rather than the WDDC director. Whiteville has a lot of potential. You have a great city, and I want to see you succeed.”
Merritt will continue to work through June 30.