There may be no Charlotte community more prepared for better days than the west corridor surrounding Johnson C. Smith University. Since President Ron Carter arrived four years ago, the school has worked to revitalize not only the campus, but the neighborhoods surrounding it. A tire company has been transformed into an arts factory. A Gold Rush shuttle runs from uptown and back, thanks to an annual investment by the school. And next week, the university will open the striking Mosaic Village, a $25 million mixed-use development of apartments and retail.
Its the kind of private-public investment that, when done right, can lead to more investment that turns communities around. Today, Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx and the City Council get another chance to explore the citys role in that process.
Foxx is bringing the council together for a two-hour retreat to talk about a new Capital Improvement Plan for Charlotte. The last plan an ambitious $926 million proposal crafted by city manager Curt Walton succumbed in June to politics and petulance when Foxx walked away from a late budget compromise after being stunned by some Democrats abandoning the original plan.
We dont want to relive the lowlights of that mayoral-council dysfunction, and apparently, neither does Foxx. Hes starting the capital conversation early this time in order to get the council on board for a possible 2013 vote. Thatll be politically tricky, given that next year is an election year for the council, but Foxx argues its necessary. The pressures driving us to consider a new capital program have not gone away, the mayor wrote recently to the council.
Hes right. Lost in the failed compromise this summer were basic and needed neighborhood improvements such as sidewalks, road improvements and bridge repairs. Also lost were targeted investments that could directly spark job growth, such as developing a northeast Charlotte corridor of startup companies in emerging fields like biosciences and energy. The idea behind the improvements and ideas: Revitalize struggling Charlotte neighborhoods in order to help the city grow economically from within.
Charlotte has developed smartly this way in the past, but this time around, Walton and Foxx hurt themselves by being too ambitious, taking the kitchen sink approach and proposing too many long-term, unfocused and unexplained ideas. If youre going to raise taxes in a harsh economy as Waltons plan proposed doing you need to do a better job of justifying it.
Now Foxx is trying again, and the communities he wants to help need a better result. On the west side, Carter and others say the best route to prosperity would come from expanding Charlottes streetcar line 2.5 miles from uptown to the school. That expansion was a $119 million chunk of Waltons budget proposal, and it was the part that Foxx decided he couldnt do without in the failed compromise.
Streetcar advocates say it would spark economic development along the westside, but such development in other cities has come when streetcars were helped out by additional public subsidies and incentives for business. Whats the plan here? Is it the best plan now for Charlotte? Taxpayers deserve a franker discussion, and Foxx and the council also should explore streetcar funding possibilities such as value capture taxes that place the burden on property owners who would benefit most from the project.
Helping the west corridor along with other struggling communities can be good for everyone. But no one is helped with another bulky and vague proposal bound for failure, instead of the efficient and purposeful plan we need.