Mayor Alexander talks infrastructure, growth with Kannapolis, Concord mayors on ‘Charlotte Talks’ radio show
By Natalie Anderson
SALISBURY — Mayor Karen Alexander joined the mayors of Concord and Kannapolis Wednesday morning on WFAE’s “Charlotte Talks” radio show to talk infrastructure, growth and economic recovery in the region.
This summer, “Charlotte Talks” host Mike Collins has been speaking with the leaders of communities surrounding the city of Charlotte on his morning show to discuss how they’re recovering from the pandemic, grappling with growth and other issues.
On Wednesday, the mayors were first asked how their communities weathered the pandemic. Alexander referenced the partnership launched in the summer of 2020 with the Chamber of Commerce, the Economic Development Commission and the county’s Tourism Development Authority to provide merchants with resources they needed to comply with pandemic restrictions while still operating. Some of those efforts, she said, included helping businesses implement parking and other accommodations as Americans were being encouraged to stay home and order out instead.
She credits those efforts with contributing to the better-than-expected sales tax revenue, which provided a surplus exceeding $1 million in the 2020-21 fiscal year budget. But she added that the budget still experienced a negative impact to its property tax and water and sewer revenues.
“While it was difficult, we banded together,” Alexander said. “We worked to cross all boundaries and found that these collaborations and coalitions that we created then are very powerful and we intend to keep them in place.”
Alexander referenced the city and county’s collaboration to work with the local schools and colleges to train students for technical industries such as manufacturing. She referenced 423 new jobs in the city with average pay falling above $20 per hour thanks to the expansion of businesses that includes Integro Technologies.
Kannapolis Mayor Darrell Hinnant credited his city with bringing in more than 30 new businesses and at least 800 new jobs during the pandemic as part of its wave of growth and investment in downtown.
Collins also asked about the cities’ vaccination and COVID-19 case rates. Alexander noted Rowan County has one of the lowest vaccination rates, but said the city has “a good amount” vaccinated. She referenced council’s decision Tuesday to return to virtual council meetings and require face masks in city buildings, and added that there were no issues with public comment sessions last year during virtual meetings.
Collins asked about how each city is responding to the growth coming in from Charlotte and the resulting problems, including a shortage of affordable housing. Alexander estimates a little more than 900 market-rate housing units in the city, with about 453 of those deemed affordable housing.
In April, the Salisbury City Council approved rezoning requests for two proposed affordable housing developments expected to provide more than 150 units. One is called Salisbury Oaks Apartments, which will provide 84 multi-family, campus-style units between Jake Alexander Boulevard and South Main Street, adjacent to Colonial Village Apartments. The other also provides 84 units and will be called Tenby Crossing Apartments, located behind the existing Zaxby’s restaurant on Jake Alexander Boulevard West. Both developments have applied for tax credits to offer the units as affordable housing for families.
Similarly, both Hinnant and Concord Mayor Bill Dusch said their cities are seeing a big growth in multi-family complexes. Concord, however, has taken a different approach to tackle its shortage of affordable housing units with the creation of the Concord Family Enrichment Association, which is funded by 1 cent of the city’s tax rate in the fiscal year budget to expand affordable housing in the community. Dusch said that amounts to about $1.4 million per year.
Hinnant said in Kannapolis, the housing market is on fire.
“If you want to buy a house you have to speak quickly,” he said.
Alexander also referenced council’s approval earlier this week of the Grants Landing development to be located on Rowan Mill Road and the nearby residents’ concerns of its impact to roads and water and sewer infrastructure. Alexander cited it as another example of why she continues to advocate on the national level for infrastructure funding.
She touted the city’s ahead-of-the-curve decision to become a “10-gig city” with its broadband infrastructure, now leased by Hotwire. Alexander said that infrastructure is another recruiting tool, particularly with the rise of those working from home.
“We don’t get kicked off the internet,” Alexander said.
The mayors also discussed ongoing downtown projects. Alexander said the city is expected to make a decision within a few weeks between two different developers vying for the revitalization of the Empire Hotel. With either plan, it’s expected to provide about 72 apartments and some retail units, Alexander said.
Like Salisbury’s Downtown Main Street Plan, which involves restriping and beautifying a 10-block stretch of downtown, Concord is undergoing its own downtown streetscape project.
Alexander said historic preservation is important for a community’s authenticity.
“All of a sudden people want to be in that environment and not at a mall or a big box store,” Collins said.
Collins asked each mayor to close the show with an elevator pitch on why people should choose their city to live and work.
“Because we’re the ‘Paris of the Piedmont,'” Alexander said. “We have all of the arts.”
Contact reporter Natalie Anderson at 704-797-4246.
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