Suddenly, a hurry to buy
“When elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers.”
— African proverb
On the plus side, Rowan County officials did a good job several years ago of transforming the old Brendle’s building off East Innes Street into new quarters for the Health Department and, with an addition, Social Services. The building is basic and functional, as are the new satellite jail and the 911 communications center.
With those growing departments taken care of, though, it’s hard to understand commissioners’ sudden desire to buy a 320,000-square-foot mall and to start vacating downtown county offices that are already paid for.
Points to consider:
• The property business: At the end of 2012, the county owned more than 1,300 acres of property valued at nearly $66 million. Most of the property is used for public buildings, park land or parking lots. But some is real estate that the county is not using — land Chairman Jim Sides has talked about selling off. “I’m not interested in the county being in the property business,” Sides said last year. “I prefer to sell everything we have that is not needed for current and future expansion purposes. Of course, that doesn’t happen overnight.”
• Elections: A shift from downtown to the mall doesn’t happen overnight either. It would take several years (and several million dollars in renovations) to move all the functions county officials have mentioned — board of elections, veteran services, transportation department, register of deeds, tax assessor, planning department and Rowan County Sheriff’s Office. Elections change things, as we found out with the central office; much of this might never happen.
• Other uses: A future board could be stuck with a mall it doesn’t need or want. Or it might find another use for the property — an event center, possibly? The building is already much bigger than the Cabarrus Arena and Event Center.
• Earlier investments: County government may need a central office as much as the school system does. For centuries, downtown has served that purpose, with important offices and institutions within walking distance of each other. Moving to the mall would separate those offices from the brains of the organization — the county manager’s office and finance office in the J. Newton Cohen Sr. Rowan County Administration Building. The county has a big investment in that building.
The 20-day due diligence period has begun; that’s not enough time for the development of a long-range plan. If the site and structure check out and the sale is finalized, taxpayers would like a voice in what happens next. Public support starts with public input.