Spirit of Rowan: Dreams move toward reality in Kannapolis

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 28, 2018

In 2015, Kannapolis officials took a bold step by purchasing nearly 50 acres and eight blocks of buildings at the city’s center.

The $8.75 million purchase was intended to bring $370 million in private investment over the next 10 years for a revitalization of a previously dwindling downtown.

Three years later, $360 million worth of projects is in the works, with expected completion dates for some projects as early as 2019.

“We’ve been working extremely hard over the last four or five years making sure these things come to fruition,” said Mayor Darrell Hinnant. “We have a City Council that is pro-government, pro-business, not bashful, and they’re willing to work hard to get things accomplished.”

Some $60 million of investment comes in what the city is calling the “demonstration project.”

Lansing Melbourne Group, a company based in Florida, purchased 3.81 acres for $1.64 million in January 2017. The group will use the space to construct Vida, a mixed-use development of multistory residential units, a hotel and retail spaces near the old Cabarrus Bank.

Nearly a year later, the council approved a $300 million investment by Corporate Realty Inc. That project will be in four stages and centered on the former location of K-Town Furniture.

The city will build a $37 million sports and entertainment venue that will be the new home of the Kannapolis Intimidators baseball team.

The venue is a contribution by the city, an anchor project meant to lure investments like those of Corporate Realty. It will seat as many as 5,800 fans, with eight suites and 8,500 square feet of meeting and banquet space.

“People want amenities at their doorstep,” said Brian Wolfe, chief development officer with Corporate Realty. “These types of environments play well with us. Our goal is to have a positive impact and grow a strong public and private partnership in Kannapolis.”

In Stage 1, Corporate Realty will build a five-story, 280-unit multifamily apartment complex with retail stores on the ground floor and a parking deck, all bordering the new venue. Hinnant said the project should be completed by spring 2020 – just in time for baseball season.

Corporate Realty will then move to Stage 2: the redevelopment of buildings adjacent to and south of the historic Gem Theatre. The buildings will be outfitted as historic-creative office spaces, retail stores, restaurants and more.

Stage 3 will be the construction of an active-senior residential community, and Stage 4 is a corporate headquarters.

But changes in Kannapolis involve much more than brick-and-mortar projects. New business means updated streets and infrastructure.

“It’s just like at your house,” said Annette Privette Keller, director of communications for the city. “A kitchen from the 1950s is not going to be able to handle what you need it to do now.”

The city is moving all public utilities underground: water, sewer, gas, electricity and Windstream internet service.

The city is also working to construct a linear park, adjoining the new downtown developments. Green space, architectural elements and an outdoor performance area will be designed in “rooms,” Keller said, each suited to the businesses the areas touch.

One space will provide seating for dining, another a place for fitness activities. Areas closer to residential apartments, patio homes or churches will be more suited for quiet talks or reading a book, Keller said.

“We’re excited about what (Kannapolis) … is doing,” said Wolfe. “This is a very unique opportunity that you don’t see very often.”

Demolition for the downtown facelift began in October. Streetscaping and infrastructure changes are expected to be completed in the spring of 2019.

With coming construction and a booming population, the city is making a recovery after the 2003 closure of Pillowtex, the successor to Cannon Mills.

The city is projected to grow by 20,000 residents by 2035. It has averaged between 800 and 1,000 new home constructions over the past two years, said Keller.

She said the growth is facilitated by North Carolina Department of Transportation projects that are widening roads along Interstate 85 and N.C. 3.

“People want to easily be able to get off of I-85, live somewhere and pop back on and go to work and be able to hop off,” she said. “We’re seeing growth in that (area) … and we knew it was coming. We’re planning and preparing for it.”