Two weeks after indicating it was wary of spending more money to renovate the old Mecklenburg and Johnston mills, the Charlotte City Council voted Monday night to spend an additional $1.25 million to convert the historic NoDa buildings into workforce housing.
The councils vote was hailed by NoDa residents, who carried signs saying YIMBY! a reference to them wanting affordable housing in their backyards instead of opposing it.
Swayed by those residents and by a desire to save the citys past council members voted 9-2 for the subsidy. Republican Andy Dulin and Democrat LaWana Mayfield voted no.
The money will go to a Washington, D.C.-based developer, The Community Builders, that bought the 100-year-old buildings from the city last April for $1.24 million. But as the renovations began, the developer said it realized the mills were in much worse condition than anticipated.
Two weeks ago, The Community Builders asked the city for $2.35 million a request that most council members indicated they would vote against. On Monday night, the developer pared down its request.
The Community Builders said it would spend roughly $2.4 million of its own money on the project and that it received positive feedback from the Foundation for the Carolinas about also helping financially.
Mayor Anthony Foxx, a Democrat, asked council members for more time two weeks ago instead of voting against the $2.35 million request. He urged council members to vote yes Monday, saying the city should protect more of its oldest buildings.
We arent very progressive in that way, said Foxx.
He later added: We have a neighborhood that wants affordable housing. This will be a transformative investment.
Democrat Claire Fallon, who was very critical of giving the developer more money two weeks ago, was supportive Monday.
We were a mill town before we were a bank town, Fallon said.
Hollis Nixon, president of the NoDa neighborhood association, said the money would be well spent.
The bottom line is historic preservation is expensive, she said.
Nixon added that she and her neighbors want the workforce housing.
NoDa is saying Yes, we want it in our backyard, Nixon said. This is our Eastland Mall.
Nixon was referring to the citys decision earlier this year to buy the remains of Eastland for $13.2 million with the hope of converting the empty mall into movie studios.
In lobbying for the mills money, Foxx said it would help the city improve its older neighborhoods. That has been one of the mayors themes as he works to pass a capital plan through 2020, which would probably cost hundreds of millions of dollars.
The $1.25 million for the mills will come from the citys portion of a federal grant program for low-income housing. The project will create 64 apartments for people who earn roughly 70 percent of the areas median income.
City staff members also said the project is valuable because its next to a planned light-rail station at 36th Street near North Davidson Street. The Charlotte Area Transit System hopes to open a 9.4-mile Lynx Blue Line extension by 2017, which would pass NoDa en route to UNC Charlotte.
The historic mills can serve as a springboard for growth, said Joe Kuhlmann, owner of The Evening Muse in NoDa.
The city has already spent nearly $7 million to try to refurbish the buildings. In the last decade, two other efforts to rehab the buildings with different developers have failed.
When the city sold them to The Community Builders last year, most council members thought they would be done with the mills.
Mayfield said she voted no because, with the additional subsidy, the city is buying back its initial investment.