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Charlotte City Council OKs Carowinds tax subsidy

SpringBreak_Carowinds0404
Maria Sharp - msharp@charlotteobserver.com
Thrill-seekers ride the Intimidator, the tallest, fastest and longest roller coaster in the Southeast. Families and friends enjoy a day at Carowinds Amusement Park during Spring Break on Wednesday, April 3, 2013. MARIA SHARP - msharp@charlotteobserver.com

The Charlotte City Council approved an incentive package Monday for the parent company of Carowinds that could total $922,000, though some council members balked at the deal, saying the newly created jobs would pay too little.

Under the deal approved in a 7-4 vote, the city will pay Cedar Fair Entertainment 90 percent of the company's new property taxes for three years. That totals about $330,000. If Mecklenburg County approves the deal on Tuesday, Cedar Fair would receive just under $600,000.

Sandusky, Ohio-based Cedar Fair has said it will spend $43.5 million expanding the Carowinds amusement park, in an effort to boost annual attendance from 1.9 to 2.5 million people. The company bought 61 acres adjacent to the park in 2011, which will presumably be used for the expansion.

City Council member Michael Barnes voted against the incentives because he said he believes Cedar Fair will expand the park anyway.

“I'm still not convinced they wouldn't do this work without this grant,” Barnes said.

Joining Barnes in voting no were Democrats Patrick Cannon, the mayor pro tem, Claire Fallon and Bill Maddalon, who was appointed to the District 1 seat this summer.

City staff said the Carowinds expansion is expected to create 15 new full-time jobs with an average salary of $43,000. In addition, Carowinds said it will hire 270 part-time jobs for the summer that will pay an hourly wage of between $8.10 and $8.25.

Cannon, who is the Democratic nominee for mayor in this fall's election, said the proposed wages give him “heartburn and concern” for their low pay.

The city's economic development office said the incentives were offered so Cedar Fair would expand in Charlotte, rather than at its King's Dominion park in Virginia. City staff said the expansion is expected to generate 20,000 new hotel room nights annually, though it's unknown whether new Carowinds visitors will be staying in Mecklenburg County or South Carolina.

Democrat David Howard, who supported the incentives, asked the city's economic development director, Brad Richardson, whether Carowinds would still expand if the city rejected the tax breaks.

Richardson said he couldn't speak for the company.

Howard said the deal was good for Charlotte because it will create jobs for teenagers.

“This is a public safety issue,” he said. “Two hundred-seventy is a lot of kids off of the street.”

Cedar Fair Entertainment had $1.068 billion in revenue in 2012, and net income of $102 million, according to its annual financial report on its Web site.

Republican Andy Dulin, who voted for the incentives, said his first job as a teenager was at the park. He said it taught him “stick-to-it-ness.”

York County, S.C., has offered Cedar Fair subsidies for years, the county's economic development office said last week.

Mecklenburg County commissioners are scheduled to consider their portion of the incentives package Tuesday.

The City Council tentatively approved the incentives in late June. Cedar Fair announced in August it was planning to expand.

In other action, council members unanimously approved a deal for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Housing Partnership to absorb the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Development Corp, a non-profit that has focused on commercial development. The partnership focuses on residential development for workforce and low-income housing.

For the partnership to assume the CMDC, the city will spend up to $330,000 annually to help cover the group's deficit. CMDC has developed projects such as the Wilkinson Business Park, but it has struggled financially since the recession started in 2008.

Harrison: 704-358-5160
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