Kannapolis retreat highlights benefits, challenges of growth
By Hugh Fisher
For the Salisbury Post
KANNAPOLIS ó Discussion at the Kannapolis City Council’s annual retreat, held on Thursday at The Club at Irish Creek, highlighted the challenges of rapid growth in a city that’s only been in growth mode for a few years.
“We had a good session today,” said Mayor Bob Misenheimer after the day-long retreat. “We’ve got a lot of things on our plate … But the thing I got the most out of it was that we’re very realistic where the numbers are concerned.”
The retreat featured addresses from city managers, public works and public safety officials. They drew attention to areas where Kannapolis will face the most difficulty balancing revenue with necessities.
Fire stations, for example: Kannapolis currently has four, with a fifth to be completed next year.
Several more stations are planned, but as Fire Chief Ernie Hiers told council members, current growth in residents and the resulting traffic congestion on local roads are affecting response times.
“In January and February 2007, we responded to 673 calls,” Hiers said. “This year we’ve responded to 893 in that same time period, about a 24 percent increase.”
Eighty-five percent of those calls were responded to by the fire department within six minutes or less. But that will change as traffic on local roads increases.
Hiers said that plans call for replacing small, aging fire stations with new facilities in more central locations.
New fire stations would be added in the northern and western parts of the city to cover outlying annexations and heavy residential areas.
However, since it takes an average of two years, according to Hiers, to design and build a new fire station, the current rate of funding means that all of the facilities changes proposed wouldn’t be completed for most of a decade.
In addition to relocating two stations and remodeling one other, plans include a new fire station to be built in the area of China Grove Road between Brantley Road and Lane Street and another off Jim Johnson Road.
New equipment will also be required. Right now, Kannapolis has only one ladder truck.
“We will have to have two ladders to respond to the Research Campus, with the size of those buildings,” Hiers said. “Right now, we’d have to rely on mutual aid.”
But public safety is not the only issue council members will have to address in the coming year.
Public image is also key. Karen Whichard of Walker Marketing is exploring projects to make Kannapolis more attractive not only to incoming biotechnology employees at the North Carolina Research Campus, but to professionals, families and other potential residents as well.
“Obviously, the campus is important,” Whichard said. “But we need to consider other developments and new corridors as well.”
She said that thousands of people are moving into North Carolina, and attracting them to Kannapolis to live will mean developing a “brand name” and an image that appeals to newcomers.
“Huntersville, Concord and Rock Hill have managed to accomplish this at some point,” Whichard said.
Whichard and Walker Marketing proposed print advertising, a completely redesigned Web site and a new market research study, among other options.
The cost would be between $102,000 and $140,000.
Council member Ken Geathers applauded the push for publicity, adding that the local school systems ó Rowan County, Cabarrus County and Kannapolis City ó had positive news that should be a draw for potential Kannapolis residents.
“We have three good school systems. We need to push all of them,” Geathers said, adding that the presence of Rowan-Cabarrus Community College should also be a draw.
But Geathers and others also cautioned that not enough was being done to use Kannapolis’ heritage as a draw.
“Kannapolis has got to be way more than the Research Campus,” Geathers said, adding that the area’s ties to the racing industry and to textile heritage ought to be considered.
City Manager Mike Legg agreed. “We have been through two massive transformations in the last hundred years,” he said. “We can’t overemphasize that.”
Councilman Roger Haas said that any marketing efforts needed to focus on the families whom the North Carolina Research Campus brings into the area. “How do we reach them with this same message to keep them from moving to Charlotte?” Haas said.
Time to recycle?
One service new residents will be seeking is curbside recycling, which hasn’t been offered in the city since a pilot program over a decade ago.
“Recycling has become a quality of life issue,” said Renee Goodnight, community outreach coordinator for the city. “Good, bad or indifferent, city councils are finding this on their agendas.”
Goodnight and Public Works Director Wilmer Melton said some new residents are shocked that the city does not offer recycling.
Unlike the pilot program that failed in the 1990s due to lack of participation ó only 800 residents participated ó Goodnight said attitudes on recycling have changed.
“By 2027, we will be placing an additional 237 million tons of waste in landfills across North Carolina,” she said. “Until we become proactive, our environmental problems are not going to get any better.”
Although market research suggests an overwhelming majority of the city would favor curbside recycling over a central drop-off site, the cost can be steep ó as much as $700,000 annually citywide, according to one set of figures.
But council members said asking residents to pay a fee for the privilege of recycling, as some suggested, is not the best way to go forward.
RecreationParks and Recreation Director Gary Mills reported on money being spent to improve Village Park, build a greenway and attract citizens to downtown with art and music.
“The Eighth Street Greenway is scheduled to open by May,” Mills said.
And with a new water recycling and treatment system in place, the Village Park Splash Pad will reopen this summer for a full season. It was closed last August after water restrictions came into effect.
When it was open, it generated thousands of dollars in revenue for the city.
Upcoming projects such as new playground equipment and the new train at Village Park will make the facility a huge draw, according to Mills. “It should be a real showcase,” he said.
The main challenges still facing the city in the year ahead include balancing capital improvements and growth without having to increase tax rates, Legg said.
He said that Thursday’s discussion of council priorities for the year ahead “set a foundation for discussion.”
“I got a lot of good feedback … Some of the things we’re discussing really struck a nerve,” Legg said.
Mayor Misenheimer said that the decisions facing the city about revenue, spending and growth in the year to come would be challenging. “But if any group of people can pull it off, I know these people can,” he said.
Contact Hugh Fisher at 704-797-4245 or email@example.com.