Kannapolis City Council agrees to purchase downtown

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 17, 2015

By Susan Shinn

For the Salisbury Post

KANNAPOLIS — Excitement and anticipation filled the air Monday afternoon as Kannapolis City Council members signed a resolution to execute the purchase of Downtown Kannapolis.

The resolution passed 7-0, as Mayor Darrell Hinnant asked council members to stand to indicate their agreement. A standing-room only crowd at the Train Station responded with a standing ovation.

The city will purchase some 46 acres of property in Downtown Kannapolis from David Murdock at a cost of $5.55 million. The value of the eight blocks of buildings — some 653,395 square feet of retail space — is set at $23 million.

During his presentation, City Manager Mike Legg said that the city was the only buyer Murdock would have ever considered. Over eight months of due diligence, Legg said, the council discovered “that Mr. Murdock is focused on other things. He will continue to focus on the North Carolina Research Campus in a big way. The time was right for a new partnership. He could focus on the research campus, and we could focus on the downtown.”

Ultimately, Legg said, the success of the research campus is dependent on a vibrant downtown.

People and businesses want a central core — a place where they can go for social and economic interactions,” Legg said. “A place where there is a blend of historic and new buildings. People and businesses are moving back into downtowns.”

Legg noted that for decades, the downtown was the heart and soul of the American city. With the advent of the interstate highway system and the development of the suburbs, downtowns began to suffer. Downtown Kannapolis was no different, he said, but was able to hang on longer than many of its counterparts because of the presence of Cannon Mills and its successor companies.

Legg said that $14 million worth of “must do” improvements have been identified, but that most of this amount was already part of the city’s long-range financial plan.

Some of the properties are in great shape and others need work,” Legg said. “We knew that going in.”

The 50- to 75-year-old infrastructure will also have to be replaced, he said.

Bonds will fund the purchase of the downtown, Legg added, with a relatively small property tax increase possible. “But the full financial plan still remains to be seen.”

Legg laid out a dozen guiding principles for the downtown acquisition plan.

The vibrancy of our city must include the heart of downtown,” Legg said, which council believes is critically important for the future of the research campus.

He also said that the city does not want to be in the property management business any longer than necessary. “We see the city as a conduit, not to be the endgame.”

Legg said the city would seek public and private partnerships to help in downtown revitalization. The city has chosen Development Finance Initiative, a group that’s part of the UNC School of Government, to assist in revitalization efforts. Legg said the city would see significant private investment over the next decade.

In multiple meetings, City Council decided that the rewards were worth far more than the risk to purchase the downtown,” Legg said.

Legg said that public meetings to share the city’s plan are set for March 30, April 15 and April 20. An agreement with DFI is set to be approved at the City Council’s meeting on March 23. Legg said that the closing for the property should take place around July 15.

Mayor Pro Tem Ryan Dayvault called the decision a “new beginning” for Kannapolis.

My passion is to be able to create a community to retain young people,” said Dayvault, himself a Millennial. “I want to see people energized. My generation has not been allowed to have good memories of downtown besides the Gem Theatre and cruise-ins.

The energy is here. We have to seize it.”

Councilman Roger Haas called himself the most skeptical member of City Council during the eight months they discussed the plan.

I must’ve had 3,000 questions,” he said. “I had to get comfortable with what we were doing. There will be plenty of opportunity to have your questions answered. This project has my full support. You guys out there are going to be proud of us.”

All council members praised the efforts of the city staff. Hinnant and the council made it clear that they wanted and needed citizen input to make the project a success.

Few people get a chance to recreate a city,” Hinnant said. “This is an awesome opportunity. We expect and hope you will participate and be a part of this process.”

He ended his remarks, and the meeting, by saying, “Let’s go to work.”

I just think it’s marvelous,” said Martha Macon, a local Realtor whose father, the late Carlyle Rutledge, was longtime owner of the Gem Theatre. “I’m so excited about it. I wish I would’ve gotten my grandchildren out of school.”

That’s just what Hinnant did. His granddaughters, Ashley Burris, 8, and Makayla Burris, 5, watched from the front row in bright spring dresses.

Ed Robinette is looking to the future with an eye on the past. He snagged Hinnant’s pen used to sign the documents for the Kannapolis History Associates.

It’ll be on display in the museum in 30 minutes,” he said with a grin.

Freelance writer Susan Shinn lives in Salisbury.