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Kannapolis may need more than one ‘game changer’

KANNAPOLIS — The “game changer” that could bring prosperity to downtown Kannapolis would probably involve more than one project, if other cities’ experiences are any guide.

And Kannapolis definitely needs change, according to findings presented Monday evening by representatives of the nonprofit Development Finance Initiative, or DFI.

If the city stays the course it’s on now, without any kind of transformative project, the local economy will not grow fast enough to absorb downtown vacancies any time soon, DFI’s Tanner Dudley said.

Kannapolis City Council took the sobering but unsurprising news in stride during its work session. Members found good news, though, in data DFI shared about major projects other cities had successfully executed.

Baseball stadiums brought more growth and better financial return than two other popular anchor projects for up-and-coming downtowns — cultural arts centers and children’s museums— according to the DFI analysis.

The development costs for stadiums and performing arts centers were about the same, based on case study comparisons — $40 million. But stadiums drew $26 million in adjacent private development, compared to $14 million for peforming arts centers. Children’s museums cost an average of $23 million to develop and drew $1.2 million in nearby development.

Cities DFI studied that succeeded at downtown revitalization had invested in several projects, from anchor attractions like ballparks and museums to smaller improvements like parks, streetscaping, parking decks and other amenities.

“Communities made multiple investments over time,” said DFI’s Michelle Audette-Bauman.

Success for an anchor project is not as simple as “build it and they will come,” she said. But if you plan it, build it, market it and manage it — whatever “it” is —development should follow, she said.

Based on recent history, the DFI study projected the city’s natural growth would require 55,000 square feet of retail space, 70,000 square feet of office space and 500 more residential units over the next 10 years.

The city has some 700,000 square feet to fill since it bought 46 acres of downtown property from N.C. Research Campus founder David Murdock earlier this year.

In other business, the council:

• Discussed possible names for the new city hall’s conference area, including the Laureate Center, the Magnolia Center or the Chambers Event Center. Other possibilities were Global, Cherry Ridge, Chestnut, Cherry Arbor and Glass. The council will vote at its next meeting.

• Reviewed proposed rates and policies for renting space in city buildings, including the new conference area. Facilities will be rented on a first-come, first-served basis, and hourly rates will be higher after hours and on weekends.

• Heard about a proposed application process to hold special events in the city, which would be any public events involving 250 or more people.

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