After multi-million dollar purchase, what’s next for downtown Kannapolis?

Published 12:00 am Sunday, December 27, 2015

By Hugh Fisher

KANNAPOLIS — It’s been a long time since downtown Kannapolis was truly bustling.

Before the heyday of the Cannon Village outlet mall in the 1980s, Kannapolis in the Cannon Mills era was like many other downtowns, with shops, a grocery store and a Montgomery Ward department store.

Today, more than 12 years since the downtown mill closed for good, only a few of the Cannon Village-era outlet stores are still open.

Many storefronts in downtown Kannapolis stand empty, with bright holiday decorations a sharp contrast to vacant windows and faded paint.

Some businesses continue to flourish there, including the Gem Theatre, several restaurants, a Crossfit gym and several clothing and furniture outlets.

The purchase of downtown properties by the city of Kannapolis in September has opened the doors for revitalization and new investment.

The city purchased properties on Oak Avenue, West Avenue, South Main Street, and West First Street from several owners, including David Murdock’s Atlantic American Properties and Castle & Cooke.

Purchased for $8.75 million, the properties have a total tax value of about $25 million.

While many praised the purchase, it’s still unclear what the future of downtown Kannapolis will look like.

A study presented this month by the UNC School of Government Development Finance Initiative compares the city with Durham, Bowling Green, Ky. and Greenville, S.C. while also presenting some ideas that could guide future development.

In September, the Kannapolis City Council adopted a set of guiding principles for the downtown revitalization project. Among them, the city seeks to encourage as many downtown uses as possible, creating “a mixed-use district that attracts diverse users and activities.”

Other goals include attracting anchor businesses “to capture local and regional demand,” improving the quality of life for citizens and respecting “the historic integrity of downtown.”

What locals want

Residents of Kannapolis, and downtown business owners, say they’d like to see a mix of new businesses and activities come to downtown.

Somchay “Sunshine” Siharath, owner of Sunshine’s Asian Cuisine and Sunshine’s Coffee Shop on West A Street, said she’d like to see more shopping and restaurant options downtown.

The only sit-down restaurants in the central part of downtown are Sunshine’s, Village Grill, Pizza Hut and upscale eatery Forty-Six.

“It would be nice to have an Italian restaurant,” Siharath said. “Italian food is popular, and we don’t have one here.”

Jeffrey Pangnavong, one of Siharath’s employees, lives in Charlotte but works in Kannapolis.

“Boutique stores, more stores for clothing. That would draw more traffic,” Pangnavong said.

“A bookstore would be awesome,” said Shane Manier, a lifelong Kannapolis resident who said she’s active in the local arts scene. “I’d also like to see, if not an art gallery, then a space that would hang local artists’ works and allow local musicians to perform.”

Her boyfriend, Daniel Gurley, a native of Concord now living in Kannapolis, said he’d like to see music store – preferably locally-owned, “by someone who’s built up a reputation in the community.”

“A place that’ll sell musical instruments, and maybe have some records in it, too,” Gurley said.

“I’d love to see more live music performances,” said Rupply Mitchell, a former resident and A.L. Brown High School graduate who now lives in Jefferson.

Mitchell, who was back in town visiting family, said he enjoys live music performances and would come back to Kannapolis to see them.

“You’d get more people to come out downtown if you had more live shows and concerts,” Mitchell said.

Long-term project

“I’ve been in business up here for 30 years,” said Darrell Jackson, owner of Lee Clothing Warehouse on West Avenue. He was elected to the Kannapolis City Council in 2013.

“Speaking as a business owner, the only way retail, restaurants and performing arts will survive is if we create a critical mass, a draw,” Jackson said.

Jackson said retailers often use formulas to determine where to place their stores. Without enough potential shoppers living and working in an area, it’s difficult to attract businesses, Jackson said.

“When you look at corporate retail … if they don’t have enough rooftops, they’re not even going to entertain the thought,” Jackson said.

One of the things the city will have to do in order to revitalize downtown is increase the number of people living and working downtown, Jackson said.

“We need people who work, eat, sleep and shop in Kannapolis,” Jackson said.

Referring to the first phase of the redevelopment program announced this month, Jackson said he hopes Kannapolis will find investors who can help bring new residential development to downtown.

Along with new housing, downtown Kannapolis will also need infrastructure improvements. “Much of our water and sewer system is decades old, dating from the time before Kannapolis was incorporated as a city,” Jackson said.

Finally, Kannapolis needs jobs and attractions to bring people to the city. “Right now, most of the employment is outside the region, and Kannapolis is a bedroom community,” Jackson said.

With all of that in mind, Jackson said, “there’s no magic solution.”

Instead, Jackson said, it will take careful planning, and a partnership between the city and private investors, to attract the people who will shape the future of downtown Kannapolis.