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Downtown property key to Kannapolis election

By Elizabeth Cook

elizabeth.cook@salisburypost.com

KANNAPOLIS — The city’s $8.75 million purchase of downtown property is the defining issue of this year’s City Council election.

The three incumbents seeking re-election — Ryan Dayvault, Roger Haas and Tom Kincaid — support the purchase and look forward to shaping Kannapolis’ future.

The three challengers in the race — Randy Keller, Amos McClorey and Violet Mitchell — all express concern that  City Council may be focusing too much time and money on the downtown and not enough on other issues.

A seventh candidate, Dennis Johnson, filed for office but told the Post he has withdrawn from the race. His name will still be on the ballot, however.

With an eye toward promoting development, City Council voted earlier this year to pay $7.55 million to David Murdock’s Atlantic American Properties and Castle and Cooke for downtown property. The city also bought the former K-town Furniture property from Uwharrie Bank for $875,000 and a house for $325,000.

“We now have the unique opportunity to launch a new chapter in the life of our downtown,” Mayor Darrell Hinnant said in March.

Six people are vying for three seats. Whoever wins the Nov. 3  election will be serving with Hinnant, Darrell Jackson, Diane Berry and Doug Wilson, who all have two more years in their terms.

The council voted this year to proceed with phase 2 of a planning study to determine whether to locate a baseball stadium in downtown Kannapolis. Hinnant, Dayvault, Kincaid and Haas voted in favor of the motion. Berry, Jackson and Wilson voted against it.

Here, in alphabetical order are the candidates and their views on a few topics:

Ryan Dayvault

Dayvault, the youngest candidate at 29, is part of the new Kannapolis, the N.C. Research Campus that rose up after textiles died. The Catawba College graduate works in property management for the UNC Chapel Hill Nutrition Research Institute. He is mayor pro tem, seeking his second term on the council.

Dayvault supports the downtown purchase. For the first time, he says, citizens are in control of the city’s destiny.

“We can all collectively determine how our downtown looks and feels like in the future,” he says.

The city needs to bring in new investment to strengthen the downtown, which will make the rest of the city more attractive to companies looking for vibrant downtowns and good quality of life for employees, Dayvault says.

He envisions the city selling some of the property to diversify ownership and get it back on the tax rolls. Developing downtown apartments — the sooner the better — would boost downtown population and attract the retail and restaurants, he says.
“This coupled with smart and selective public investment in downtown, will restore downtown to an environment that we all as citizens want to see,” Dayvault says.
He believes Kannapolis can become a destination in the Charlotte region for young professionals, attracting a new generation and the businesses and services — and jobs — that come with them.
“I will continue to support a very aggressive economic development strategy that we have used to lure investment to our city in recent years,” Dayvault says. He says Gordon Food Service is an example of the strategy. “I also envision our older corridors being revitalized with new development, which is very important to our city’s image.”
 
Roger Haas
Haas, 67, has been on the council about 15 years, on and off, starting in 1997. The founder of AIM Tours had no hesitation about seeking re-election this year.
“There are so many exciting things going on,” Haas says, and he believes he has much to contribute.
The council went into the downtown purchase with a shared goal.  “We were not going to be property owners any longer than we need to,” Haas says.
A consulting firm, DFI, is working with the city to devise a master plan to help the city sell the property to private developers.
Seeing this project through to improve the city’s economy was one of the reasons Haas wanted to run again — to help lay the foundation for the city’s success.
Ten years from now, he envisions a fully restored downtown that has been repurposed as offices, retail and restaurants, a place where citizens can meet, he says. “We have to create those development opportunities,” Haas says.
Feedback from taxpayers, he says, has been “totally positive,” even with a 3-cent property tax increase.
The purchase is “absolutely a bold move,” he says, and citizens are behind it.
The No. 1 issue in the election is economic development for the entire town, Haas says. To prepare for that, the city needs to make investments in infrastructure like water and sewer and roads, he said.
Randy Keller
Like Dayvault, Keller works on the Research Campus — in his case, on the N.C. State program. But the 53-year-old sees the downtown purchase as an extravagance, pure and simple.
Nevertheless, he has an idea for one of the tracts. Keller would like to see the city clear the former K-Town property and give it as an incentive to a major retailer, such as Target, Walmart or Macy’s so they would located in Kannapolis. That would bring more development, he says.
To Keller, the top issue in this election and the impetus for his candidacy can be summed up in one word: taxes.
City council raised the property tax rate 4 cents last year and 3 cents this year, putting it at 63 cents per $100 valuation. Concord’s tax rate is 48 cents; Salisbury’s is 66 cents.
“Instead of building the tax base, they’re building tax rates,” Keller says. A former Pillowtex worker who went back to school after the plant closed in 2003, he opposes the increase in the property tax rate, which he believes drives businesses away from Kannapolis and toward Concord.
Keller says he also hears a lot of people his age talk about struggling to pay water bills. He and his wife are paying an average of $80 a month for the water bill, partly because the city has added so many fees to the bill. “They’ve fee-ed it to death.”
He says there are a couple of council members who think like he does, but they’re outvoted by the majority.
Keller says he’s not in favor of a new baseball stadium and he doesn’t like for the council to make expensive decisions without giving citizens a chance to vote on them.
Tom Kincaid

Tom Kincaid, 63, was appointed to the council in 2011 to fulfill the term of the late Richard Anderson and won election to a full term in 2012.

Kincaid says the biggest issue in the election is creating jobs and reducing the tax burden on citizens.

“Right now, our citizens are having to pay more than their share of taxes because we don’t have the number of good-paying jobs we need,” Kincaid says. “As council member, I will work to find creative ways, other than just tax incentives, to attract new employers to Kannapolis.”

He wants to see the city find buyers for the downtown properties quickly.

“The downtown storefronts need to be in the hands of private investors who will, in turn, bring jobs and new opportunities. The city does not need to take on the role of landlord any longer than necessary,” he said.

Kincaid is optimistic about the city’s future.

“Kannapolis is going to grow and change, but I want to see us maintain our friendliness and charm, even as we become a more diverse and younger community,” Kincaid says. “I want to see the city council support infrastructure improvements and, again, a common-sense downtown revitalization plan so that we can be ready for the growth we know is coming.”

Kincaid came in second in the mayoral race in 2013.

Amos McClorey

McClorey, 65, was encouraged by his support at the polls in 2013, when he received  1,011 votes; with another 129 votes, he would have won a seat.

So the retired Philip Morris employee decided to give it another try. He has a long record of community involvement, from president of the local NAACP to the Community Development Board.

City Council seems like the next logical step to him.

“We think Kannapolis needs some diversity on that board,” McCorey says. The city has a population of more than 44,000 people, about 78 percent white. 16 percent black and 6 percent Hispanic.

McClorey says he is “somewhat in agreement” with the city’s purchase of downtown property but is concerned when he hears council members talk about 10- and 25-year plans. “That puts the brakes on the rest of town.”

Manufacturing is gone from downtown and is not coming back, McClorey says. “So I’m looking for retail. I’d like to see some entertainment. We only have one theater.” He is in favor of moving the ballpark downtown and believes that will attract more business to the area.

His vision for the future of Kannapolis? “I’d like to see us where we were 15 years ago,” McClorey says. There were lots of businesses downtown, and city residents could shop for most of their needs in the city limits. Now they have to go to Huntersville, Mooresville or Concord, he says.

McClorey says he’d like to see the African American community of Fishertown become part of the city. “I’m in favor of including everybody,” he says.  And he’d like to see  Kannapolis build a park on the east side of town where many of the city’s African American residents live. “We have six city parks, all on the west side of 29,” he says.

Violet Mitchell

Mitchell, 58, is such a frequent and energetic speaker at City Council meetings that the mayor reminds her of the three-minute limit.

Why is she running? “I just downright got mad and frustrated with the way things were going.”

Mitchell says the council works so much on redeveloping downtown that it’s passing by other needs citizens have — like sidewalks on Little Texas Road. Without sidewalks, people walk in the streets. “It’s just a matter of time,” she says, before someone gets hurt.

She too advocates for Fishertown to get more city services, and she says the city needs more affordable housing — not a double-decker carousel for the park.

“I get calls from people looking for housing, having trouble paying their bills, power getting cut off or on. People are really having a hard time.”

The No. 1 issue for her is employment and decent, living wages for citizens. Too many people have to work more than one job to make it, “and I’m one of them,” she says.

Ten years from now, she would like Kannapolis to still be the quiet, friendly place it has always been.

A registered nurse, Mitchell tells people she is not a politician but a “do-tician.” And she has a record of community involvement  to prove she is a do-er, from conducting blood pressure clinics on people’s porches to driving people around to pay their bills and raising money for Habitat for Humanity-Cabarrus.

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