Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx was unusually fiery in his annual “State of the City” speech Monday. He slapped at Gov. Pat McCrory for meddling in politics surrounding Charlotte’s proposed streetcar line extension. He preemptively warned unnamed Raleigh lawmakers who he said are considering taking away the city’s control over Charlotte Douglas International Airport.
But the normally restrained mayor was most pointed and passionate about Charlotte’s struggling communities and their role in our city’s future. He flatly told his audience that Charlotte can no longer grow its tax base by annexing communities on the city’s perimeter. He urged that we grow by revitalizing challenged neighborhoods, and he argued that all of Charlotte benefits when every community has a better chance at vibrancy.
Neither point is new. The mayor made a similar appeal when he and former City Manager Curt Walton unveiled a $926 million Capital Improvement Plan that was later rejected by the City Council last June. We agreed then with the value of reinvesting in the city, and the mayor was just as persuasive Monday. He overreached, however, when he suggested that Charlotteans oppose the $119 million streetcar extension because it would be built in low-income, high-minority west and east Charlotte.
Foxx is clearly frustrated. He sees the streetcar’s potential to unify east and west Charlotte with uptown, and Monday he touted the development and other economic benefits that streetcars have brought cities across the country.
That could happen in Charlotte, too, although the reality in other places is somewhat less rosy and predictive than the mayor implied. In Portland, which streetcar advocates hold up most often as a model, development has come mostly in places where the city contributed hundreds of millions of dollars in additional subsidies. In some other cities, streetcars served downtown districts more primed for development.
Also, in some of those cities, streetcar projects were paid for with alternative funding sources such as special tax districts, instead of citywide property taxes. Foxx has been skeptical about that approach working here, but on Monday, he announced that he has appointed city councilman David Howard and Huntersville Mayor Jill Swain to “develop new ideas” for funding transit. That’s a financial necessity given the uncertainty of state or federal help on future projects. It also might be a political necessity; Foxx might not get a streetcar passed if it’s funded on property taxes alone.
Foxx also told reporters that city council committees are reviewing each of the projects in previous CIP proposals, presumably to determine how effectively they would achieve his vision of growth from within. We’ve long recommended the council do exactly that so it can fill the next CIP with promising investments, not unnecessary expenses.
We hope, too, that each proposed project can be judged on its own merit and not as part of a package that’s tied to the streetcar extension, as Foxx has previously proposed. The future of Charlotte’s struggling communities, which the mayor so eloquently advocated for Monday, shouldn’t hinge on an all or nothing proposition.