A proposed rental policy for a new downtown plaza prompted some serious soul-searching this week for an area pastor who also serves on Elon’s town council.
Councilman Randy Orwig, who doubles as the pastor of Elon Community Church, suffered this minor crisis of conscience on Monday when Jill Weston, the town’s downtown development director, presented the council with a proposed fee for individuals or groups that want to rent the new plaza from the municipality for private events.
Weston told the council that, as this project reaches completion, she has already heard from one business that would like to procure the temporary rights to use this event space.
“Now that it’s so beautiful,” the town’s downtown development director added, “we’re going to get these requests.”
In response to Weston’s proposal, Orwig observed that this rental option raises some uncomfortable questions for his church, which currently allows town-sponsored events to spill over onto a grassy knoll on its grounds.
“But this is private use of a public plaza,” the minister added, “and you’re actually spending money on the plaza and not on the green space.”
Orwig added that the church has two options: It can either develop its own rental policy for the green space it owns or it could make it abundantly clear to the plaza prospective lessees that they cannot bring their private festivities onto the church’s land.
Orwig also imagined other scenarios that might complicate the church’s otherwise amicable relationship with the town.
“It is tricky,” he said. “What if the church decides to hold an event out there, you’re renting the space and we’re not coordinating [the church’s event with the private rental]?”
Elon’s mayor Emily Sharpe insisted that many of these conundrums could be deftly addressed if the town refuses to lease out the plaza for private events. She stressed that the plaza could still be used for special events that are privately sponsored but open to the general public.
“But I don’t think it should be a private event space,” she added. “I think it should be fluid and open.”
“I really agree with the mayor,” concurred councilmember Stephanie Bourland. “It was made for people to be able to come.”
In the end, the council decided to scuttle Weston’s proposed rental fees and rely on the town’s existing special events policy to allow private entities to hold publicly-accessible events on the new plaza.