Editorial: Kannapolis’ bold vision

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 8, 2015

Someone recently asked Darrell Hinnant, mayor of Kannapolis, where he and his City Council got the grit to buy 46 acres of downtown Kannapolis property from billionaire David Murdock.

Hinnant said there was no grit or bravery to it. People were tired of seeing nothing downtown. The council decided to do something about it, informing the public and taking citizens’ input along the way. The response, he said, has been overwhelmingly positive.

That seems incredible to people in Salisbury-Rowan, where the construction of a school central office came only after 20-plus years of back and forth and even furnishing it becomes a contentious issue. Kannapolis is building a $28 million municipal center and police station with nary a peep. Buying the formerly thriving village property from Murdock came with a $7.5 million pricetag and the onus to turn the project around quickly and make something happen.

In a way, Hinnant and company had an advantage — starting with a blank slate. Murdock had already demolished and removed the huge Pillowtex plant that closed in 2003. The N.C. Research Campus designed to take its place is off to a good start but still far from the full campus Murdock envisioned at the start Meanwhile, the downtown property that Murdock also owned was at a standstill. Whatever plans he had for that area never panned out.

If Murdock couldn’t develop Kannapolis, how can local government do it? City Council appears more committed to make it work and has a strong leader in Hinnant, who sees great potential in his city. Just incorporated in 1984, Kannapolis has quickly risen to become the 20th largest city in the state. The third of its population that lives in Rowan County amounts to the second largest city in the county, after Salisbury. Kannapolis doesn’t have the courthouse and hospital that might come with being a county seat, but it enjoys more leeway — and a lot less second-guessing from commissioners.

Hinnant points to the turnaround that has taken place in Durham over the past 20 years as evidence that an old city can have new life. To lead the Kannapolis project, Hinnant and the council contracted the same company that worked on the Durham revitalization, Development Finance Initiative.

Though Hinnant does not bring it up, the Kannapolis council has some detractors, and a couple of them are running for office this fall. They’re unhappy with recent property tax increases and concerned that the city is putting all its eggs in the downtown basket, while neglecting other areas. Council members need to hear these voices to keep things in perspective. The council cannot, however, change course; they are committed. The future of the city is truly in the council’s hands. That seems to suit Darrell Hinnant just fine.