Dr. Ronald L. Carter, president of Johnson C. Smith University:
On Monday, Mayor Anthony Foxx and the Charlotte City Council will try to resolve their stalemate over the citys operating budget and capital investment plan. The key point of contention is a 3.6-cent tax increase, which would finance a $926 million capital investment package.
Several council members have specifically targeted the $119 million for the extension of the Charlotte streetcar project from Uptown down along West Trade Street and Beatties Ford Road. Some have questioned the funding model for the streetcars operation; some have recommended again delaying the project for several years, while others have suggested terminating the project altogether after the initial 1.5-mile alignment is constructed.
As chairman of the Charlotte Streetcar Advisory Committee and President of Johnson C. Smith University, which would receive streetcar service, I would like to emphasize the projects merits and dispel rumors that it is a boondoggle for Charlotte taxpayers.
In his capital investment plan recommendations, City Manager Curt Walton wisely proposed investing along the citys major corridors to increase connections for greater access and mobility as well as to improve communities. In bolstering and revitalizing these fragile communities, the goal is to stabilize them to ensure a more equitable tax across the city.
Regardless of political affiliation, most would agree that fair distribution of the tax burden is a commendable strategy, and the Charlotte streetcar is a key component in implementing such a strategy on the Westside. With its operation, residential development along the corridor is expected to increase 44 to 73 percent. Retail along the alignment is projected to grow 44 to 54 percent, while local tax revenue could increase by an average of $7.3 to $13.3 million over 25 years.
This project would provide a shot in the arm to economic development in the corridor, continuing the momentum that has already begun with JCSUs new Arts Factory and the construction of the Mosaic Village, which encompasses retail space and student housing.
The project can aid in bridging the physical and economic gap between Center City and the westside and help usher in a transformation similar to South End with the light rail.
In addition, the streetcar improves the connections between JCSU, Central Piedmont Community College and UNC-Charlottes Uptown campus, thereby creating greater potential for research, learning and collaboration.
And in the debate of streetcar versus bus, these discussions are similar to those had a few years ago about the Lynx Blue Line, which in terms of ridership and economic impact has exceeded the communitys expectations. Like then, todays conversation does not have to be an either/or proposal. The streetcar would be poised to enhance service on two of Charlotte Area Transit Systems most productive bus routes: Route 7 on Beatties Ford Road and Route 9 on Central Avenue. And, it would connect the Charlotte Transportation Center with the planned Charlotte Gateway Station.
While I understand the debate among the elected officials, I implore them not to trade a long-term investment for short-term gains, by targeting a project that could reap benefits not just for the westside but for the entire community for years to come.