As Mecklenburg County tries to choose a developer to build a major new mixed-use project on publicly owned land uptown, questions remain about the three proposals for Second Ward.
Each of three competing plans would turn an area dominated by sterile government buildings into a vibrant new development with thousands of residents, shops and offices. The area was once part Brooklyn, an African-American neighborhood demolished in the urban renewal wave of the 1960s and 70s.
County commissioners met last week to consider proposals from three development teams, all led by local firms, but they haven’t selected the winner yet.
So this week, I took three questions – one from a county commissioner, one from a reader and one from my editor – and decided to look at them a bit more in-depth.
Why doesn’t the county just sell the land and collect more money?
There’s plenty of appetite for uptown land: Just look at all the cranes swinging, building hotels, apartments and a Whole Foods near the Brooklyn Village site. Charlotte development company Northwood Ravin paid the city $14.2 million earlier this year for a 3.8-acre parcel at Stonewall Street and South Boulevard, for example.
The value of the 17 acres on the table could be as high as $59 million, Chairman Trevor Fuller said at the commission’s meeting about the proposals. If the county were to simply sell that land on the free market, Mecklenburg could theoretically reap that windfall up front and also collect taxes on whatever developers build.
Instead, the county is looking to sell the land to the developers, but with certain conditions attached, such as provisions for affordable housing in their projects. At the meeting, Fuller noted that all three offers from developers have come in at less than the possible value, leading him to ask rhetorically why the county doesn’t simply sell the land.
A group led by Conformity Corporation and national developer Peebles Corp. is offering the county $50 million. County staff values a second bid, from a group led by CitiSculpt, at between $18 million and $23 million (once subtractions are made for county investments in “horizontal improvements” such as infrastructure, roads and parks). CitiSculpt sent a letter to the county this week disputing those figures, however, and said its offer should be valued between $21.6 million and $24.9 million. The group also said Fuller’s $59 million figure was too high.
County staff said they don’t have enough information from Crescent to determine how much its offer would ultimately be worth.
“When I see these numbers here for the effective payment to the county, I’m wondering what’s the value we’re getting for such a substantial reduction on the appraised amount,” said Fuller. “Now yes, we’ll get some property that can be taxed, therefore we’ll get some value out of that, but we’d get that value anyway presumably if we just sold the land straight and got $59 million and let people build what they want to build.”
The answer: In exchange for accepting a lower price up front, the county gets to exert control over what is built. Mecklenburg is mandating the development include affordable housing, a park and some form of a nod to the history and heritage of Brooklyn, the former neighborhood in the area.
The vision of a unified, vibrant, mixed-use and mixed-income area is the county’s ultimate goal – which it has to balance against the immediate financial returns.
How many affordable apartments will there be – and what does “affordable” actually mean?
Mecklenburg County required the developers to include at least 30 affordable housing units in their proposals, but all of them exceeded that goal. With plans for between 875 and 1,934 residential units total, each of the developers submitted plans that include more than 100 affordable units.
The Conformity group’s proposal sets aside 107 affordable units. The CitiSculpt group submitted two proposals, one of which includes about 93 affordable units and one of which includes 155 affordable units. Crescent Communities’ proposal includes 160 affordable units, about 19 percent of their total 875 residential units.
And how is affordable defined? The county mandated such units must be reserved for people making 80 percent or less of the area median income. That works out to a median income of $51,350 for a family of four. Crescent’s plan also includes 64 units set aside for people with lower incomes – 60 percent of the area median income.
What buildings will be torn down, and what property exactly does this proposal cover?
A redevelopment plan that involves so much acreage uptown will necessitate tearing down and rearranging a lot of what’s already there. The land included in the county’s plan consists of two main parcels: The site of Bob Walton Plaza on Stonewall Street, and the site of the vacant Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools building and Marshall Park between Third Street and Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard.
The buildings on both sites would be demolished. There’s unlikely to be any mourning for the boxy, gray concrete CMS building and Bob Walton Plaza. “Demolition would start immediately,” the Conformity-led group said this week, in a statement about their timeline.
Marshall Park, which totals 5.4 acres, is likely to disappear. The three redevelopment proposals include 1.6 to 1.9 acres of open space, which meets the county’s minimum requirement but is a significant reduction from the current size of Marshall Park. The Mecklenburg County Park & Recreation Commission is lobbying commissioners to mandate at least a 5-acre park at the new Brooklyn Village development, an open space comparable to the recently opened Romare Bearden Park and First Ward Park.
One piece of property isn’t included in the county proposal but all three developers have designs on: The CMS land that sits between the Bob Walton and Marshall Park sites. The land is currently home to Metro School and the former Second Ward High gym. That could complicate the proposals, since the developers would have to negotiate that purchase separately with CMS.
The Conformity-led group made a $5.6 million unsolicited offer to CMS to purchase the Second Ward High gym portion of the site, totaling about five acres, on Tuesday.