Kannapolis moves forward with Main Street program
By Hugh Fisher
KANNAPOLIS — The city of Kannapolis will accept an offer of a year’s partnership with the N.C. Commerce Dept. and the Main Street program.
The Kannapolis City Council debated the matter at length during Monday’s business meeting.
No formal vote was taken once members and City Manager Mike Legg determined that none was needed.
The Main Street program offers planning assistance to cities that meet certain criteria, with a heavy emphasis on historical preservation.
The competitive application process only opens every three or four years.
Kannapolis, while not fully accepted into the program, was offered a year’s services and assistance to determine if Main Street was right for the city.
But some members of the council questioned whether Main Street was best for Kannapolis, with a downtown full of empty storefronts.
Councilman Roger Haas said he didn’t believe a focus on historic preservation would bring in enough new businesses.
He pointed to studies that showed that cities with “vibrant downtowns” also have tourism, which he said was “dead last” on the city’s priority list at a recent economic summit.
“You’ve got to get people downtown, get them out of their cars and walking around,” Haas said.
Also, he said, some of the burden should be placed on the property owner, David Murdock.
When Murdock bought Cannon Mills from the Cannon family in 1982, he also purchased much of then-unincorporated downtown Kannapolis, keeping it after the mill was sold to Fieldcrest.
And many of the city’s oldest and arguably most historic buildings were razed after Murdock bought the plant out of bankruptcy in 2003, making way for the N.C. Research Campus.
As for the retail space, as Councilman Randy Cauthen noted, “When Mr. Murdock purchased the mill the first time ... he changed a lot of the storefronts.”
Creating the Cannon Village outlet mall resulted in new red-brick veneer, plus changes to entryways, windows and decorative elements.
Cauthen questioned how much could be done to preserve the history of those old retail buildings, because of those changes.
Also, Cauthen said, he was concerned by the idea of hiring a downtown manager, something a divided council agreed to in principle during the application process.
Haas also said he felt it was premature to hire a downtown manager.
“We’ve got to make sure we don’t lose focus,” he said.
Irene Sacks, city staff member who helped produce Kannapolis’ Main Street application, told council members that Main Street “does not look favorably on communities that tear down buildings of historic value.”
But, she added after a brief discussion, it was understood that there would have been challenges in preserving the aging textile plant.
At the same time, she said there was potential for preserving other buildings downtown.
“I think their main concern is the downtown space along West Avenue, and the preservation of that,” Sacks said.
Councilman Tom Kincaid said he had concerns about whether the Main Street concept was right for Kannapolis in the long run.
“But I’ll do anything to bring business back to downtown Kannapolis,” Kincaid said.
After about 40 minutes of debate, it was determined that the city staff could proceed to partner with N.C. Main Street without a formal vote.
The year’s partnership doesn’t require any fees or payments, except for any travel that city staff do – already covered under the current budget.
Also, Legg noted that because Kannapolis is not a full-fledged N.C. Main Street city, there is no need to hire a downtown manager this year.”
Mayor Bob Misenheimer said that, since council members had reached a consensus, business could move on.
“Not a total consensus,” Haas replied, quietly.
Elaborating, Haas said, “The other side of the coin is, I hope we don’t say that this is the solving of all our problems.”
He said he feared that allowing the partnership to proceed would focus too much attention on that one effort.
“It’s going to take more than historic preservation,” Haas said, to bring business back to downtown.
Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.