With the fate of a $119 million streetcar extension likely to be decided Monday, supporters said Thursday that the streetcar would spark new residential and retail development and provide a much-needed rail link between Johnson C. Smith University and uptown.
The Charlotte City Council will vote Monday on a likely reduced $926 million capital plan, which includes the money to build a four-mile streetcar line. But the project has been a sticking point for several council members, who rejected the budget on June 11.
This would be a shot in the arm to economic development, said Ron Carter, president of Johnson C. Smith University, which hosted the news conference with Center City Partners, an uptown booster/think-tank group.
Carter urged council members not to trade long-term investment for short-term gains.
The city wants to build a 10-mile streetcar line from the Rosa Parks Transit Center at Beatties Ford Road and Interstate 77 to the site of the closed Eastland Mall on Central Avenue. The streetcar would pass through uptown on Trade Street.
In December, the city will build a $37 million, 1.5-mile starter line from Time Warner Cable Arena to Presbyterian Hospital. The $119 million extension would add another 2.5 miles of track, most of it going to Johnson C. Smith.
Unlike the Lynx Blue Line, which operates in its own right-of-way, the streetcar would operate on regular streets. It would stop for red lights and traffic congestion, and wouldnt be faster than a bus.
Supporters of the project say the streetcar is an important economic development tool, because the permanence of the rails is a sign to developers that the city is committed to the area. Developer Clay Grubb predicted a large number of new apartments and retail being built along the line, similar to whats happened in South End near light-rail stations.
Can you imagine how attractive (the streetcar) will make Charlotte to the next generation? asked Grubb, who has a financial interest in commercial property on Elizabeth Avenue, along the proposed streetcar line.
Susan Lindsay, an east Charlotte activist, said the streetcar would help stabilize neighborhoods along Central Avenue.
The east-west corridors are at a crossroads, Lindsay said. The tax base has been eroding... . Sustainability is planning and developing infrastructure for the future.
The news conference was attended by three council members who voted for the budget on June 11 and who are firm supporters of the streetcar: Democrats David Howard, Patsy Kinsey and LaWana Mayfield.
Mayfield said after the conference that she doesnt support any delay, any cut to the streetcar. Kinsey and Howard have said they strongly support the streetcar.
Some of the six council members who voted against the budget on June 11 have proposed scrapping or delaying the streetcar extension as a way to shrink the capital program, which would be funded with an 8 percent property tax increase.
Mayor Anthony Foxx has called a special 1:30 p.m. meeting Monday to try and reach a budget compromise before a final budget is scheduled to be taken that night. He has also called for a special Tuesday morning council meeting in case he vetoes the budget.
Foxx supports the streetcar.
N.C. law states that municipalities must set a tax rate by June 30 for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins in July. City Manager Curt Walton has said he will have emergency measures ready Monday in case council members cant agree on a budget.
Waltons proposal would raise the citys property tax rate by 3.6 cents for every $100 of taxable value. Some council members have proposed raising taxes by 2.44 cents the same amount that Mecklenburg County has lowered its rate for the upcoming year.