Charlotte City Council’s economic development committee on Thursday moved forward with a plan to give the developers of the massive River District west of Charlotte Douglas International Airport up to $31 million worth of reimbursements for roads serving the project’s first phase.
The money would come from bonds that have already been approved and a rebate of future tax revenues from the buildings and other improvements at the River District. It’s one of the largest infrastructure deals the city has negotiated for a new development. With the developers planning to pay for $25 million worth of roads for the first phase, that means the city will be funding just over half the initial cost.
Charlotte developers Crescent Communities and Lincoln Harris won rezoning approval for the project last year. But the 1,400-acre site is mostly vacant, wooded land. To access it and develop the site, existing roads like West Boulevard must be widened and extended, and a new road network to handle the thousands of cars driving in and out daily, along with water and sewer systems.
“It really is the precursor to a lot of more development,” said Pat Mumford of the city’s Economic Development Department. The first phase of the project could generate about $70 million in tax revenue, he said. “This isn’t just about a road, or a real estate transaction...It’s a big tax generator.”
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The developers and local governments are negotiating about how they’re going to split those costs. Under the plan they’re talking about now, the developers would be reimbursed up to $16.2 million from previously approved city bonds to extend West Boulevard from I-485 to the west, and up to another $15 million from a rebate of future property taxes on the site. Future development phases that are expected to extend for decades will likely require more infrastructure deals.
The project is the largest in Charlotte since Ballantyne, which started transforming farms, fields and wooded land at Charlotte’s southern fringes into a dense, suburban mini-city 25 years ago.
“We are...building what would be a city in any other part of the state,” said Mayor Pro Tem Vi Lyles. City staff are still negotiating the details, and the full council is expected to vote on the deal this fall.
Council member Ed Driggs said he wanted to make sure the plan is a “proper deal for taxpayers,” and pointed out that some other major developments, such as Rea Farms on Providence Road, south of I-485, have taken on the full cost of their road networks.
“There is a big private sector interest here,” said Driggs. “They’re working their bottom line, which is fine.”
To garner support, the developers have been touting the future economic benefits, jobs and tax revenue from the River District. According to a study they released this week, over 30 years the plan could bring about $600 million in net fiscal impact for Mecklenburg County (that’s the taxes, fees and other revenues from the development, minus expenses associated with providing services for the River District), while the city could generate about $302 million in net fiscal impact from the development.
The study also says the River District would bring 51,000 new permanent jobs, generating $5.6 billion in total economic impact, counting wages, sales and other spending.
Developing the River District is expected to take about three decades. When fully built, the River District would include:
▪ 2,300 single-family houses.
▪ 2,550 multifamily residences, such as apartments and condominiums.
▪ 8 million square feet of office space, roughly double what’s currently built at Ballantyne Corporate Park.
▪ 500,000 square feet of shops and restaurants.
▪ 1,000 hotel rooms.
▪ A network of greenways, trails and public access to the Catawba River.
▪ 550 acres of open space, largely around the ravines and sensitive creeks that cut through the area.