Kinston man’s mission to give hometown new life


KINSTON, N.C. (WNCT) – What’s old is now new again in Kinston.

Years of downtown revitalization is making the Lenoir County city a destination for beer lovers, foodies, and history buffs.

And one man is making it his personal mission to help his hometown thrive. He’s the focus of this week’s Growing The East report.

“Kinston has become a destination,” said Stephen Hill. “You meet people on the street every day. They’re from Chicago or California, Texas, it’s just amazing.”

Hill is one of the people responsible for making Kinston a destination. Along with his son-in-law, Hill opened the popular Mother Earth Brewery in 2009. It’s one of many upstart businesses downtown helping to revitalize the city.

But for Stephen, it’s about more than dollars and cents. It’s personal.

“I’m from here. I grew up here,” explained Stephen Hill, Kinston developer/business owner. “I remember Kinston when it really was the ‘magic mile’ and you came down here and bought everything you could buy; from your car to your clothes, everything. For me, it’s great to see it come back and seeing people wanting to come to Kinston.”

And he wants to make sure those people continue to visit. Hill recently gave 9 On Your Side a tour of his latest project, renovating a century-old building at the corner of North Herritage Street and West Peyton Avenue.

“This was the Imperial Tobacco Company’s headquarters here in Kinston,” said Hill. “It was built in 1912. And we’ve turned it back into corporate apartments. So it will be extended stay apartments. It will open, probably in October. There’s five apartments here. Two two bedrooms and three one bedrooms.”

Hill said the apartments will cater to company executives relocating to Kinston or those who make business trips here often.

Just across the street from the Imperial building is another one of Hill’s projects; this one for those visitors looking to relax and have a good time.

“It was called the Midtown Motor Lodge. That’s the way it opened in 1964. It had 66 rooms. We’ve taken it and it’s going to be 46 rooms. 26 suites, 20 single rooms. But it’s going to be retro. All the furniture is back to the ’60’s. Even our staff will wear bellbottoms and, you know, it’s going to be very, very retro.”

And the updated motel, expected to be open next spring, will give visitors more freedom to take in all the sights downtown Kinston has to offer.

And in 2017, minor league baseball makes its return to K-town. So does that mean Stephen has his eyes on a project in the vicinity of historic Grainger Stadium?

“No. No, no, no, no, no,” he answered. “There’s enough downtown to be done still. My wife and I made a deal a long time ago that I would be bound by the railroad track, which is right over there, the river and Queen Street. So I have a little corridor. As you can see I’ve skipped over the railroad track just a bit with this and the motor lodge, but I think that’s about as far as she’ll let me go.”

So the work downtown continues. Geographically, Hill may have boundaries, but as he looks out at the city he grew up in, he knows the sky is the limit.

“What we do have is we have a lot of character, a lot of soul,” Hill said. “And when people come here from wherever they come, they’re very welcome.”

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