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Is that squealing from coasters or taxpayers?

By Mark Washburn
mwashburn@charlotteobserver.com
Mark Washburn
Mark Washburn writes television and radio commentary for The Charlotte Observer.

This is a proud moment in our community’s history. For less than a million dollars, we have battled off rivals and ensured our lofty heritage as an international roller-coaster preserve.

Charlotte City Council on Monday agreed to give Carowinds, that thrill-ride emporium perched on the state line, more than $300,000 in tax breaks to ramp up its amusements. Tuesday, Mecklenburg County was poised to vote on $600,000 more.

Cedar Fair Entertainment Co., Carowinds’ parent company, might have decided to make $43 million in improvements at its King’s Dominion Park near Richmond rather than here. This would be ruinous to our image as a world-class, roller-coaster-friendly city, an achievement that took decades to build.

Or, they might have decided to put their new attractions on the South Carolina side of the park. This could result in disastrous international press coverage.

People who are sore about giving tax breaks to Cedar Fair, which is on track for its fourth-record setting year with about a billion dollars in sales, just don’t understand how business works. If we don’t pony up the cash, someone else just might.

What if they pack up their coasters and move to Los Angeles? Or Yadkinville? We cannot take that risk. Our position is perilous.

You must understand that we do not hand out giant tax breaks willy-nilly. We require gobs of assurances.

Remember when the Panthers needed millions to upgrade their stadium? We did not fork over one cent until they provided detailed breakdowns on what the money would go for, which they said would probably be something like new escalators (Hey, will they stop two seconds before they get to the end?) and fancy scoreboards.

Likewise, we’ve required Cedar Fair to provide exacting detail on their plans, which are: “Several significant investments in both the amusement and water park areas, including new rides and attractions, new and upgraded food locations, and general infrastructure improvements.”

OK. Good enough.

As a bonus, the expansion will probably create 15 full-time jobs and nearly 300 summer jobs, Cedar Fair says. This is good.

Maybe some of those summer jobs can be reserved for our respected schoolteachers, because we certainly aren’t giving them any raises. We will, of course, in due time.

Right now, we just don’t have the money.

Washburn: 704-358-5007.
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