These are boom times for building town halls around the Charlotte region.
At least seven cities or towns in the area, including Mint Hill, Concord and Kannapolis, have completed or are in the midst of building new municipal centers. And they are spending more than a combined $71 million to do so.
The latest – but by no means last – entrant is Indian Trail.
The fast-growing Union County town expects to spend between $5 million and $7 million on a town hall and community center, officials said. The Town Council voted this month on several key steps to move the project forward.
Different forces are feeding the building boom, said John Chesser, a senior analyst at the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute.
Places with entrenched downtowns such as Concord and Kannapolis need room to accommodate the demands of growth and finally have the resources to do so, he said. Other fast-growing areas that lack such history are creating traditional town centers that could strengthen their civic identities.
“They are creating a sense of what the town is and making the downtown more understandable as a place,” Chesser said. “A lot of people see that as more important now.”
Town hall construction looks to keep going for the rest of the decade. Other municipalities, including Pineville and Marvin, are thinking of the need for a new building.
Most of the towns building new municipal centers are placing them in their downtown or a central area. There are benefits to that, Chesser said. A defined downtown is more attractive for retail, commercial and other mixed-use development.
Indian Trail is hoping to get exactly such a boost from its project, Town Manager Joe Fivas said. The town plans to build at the corner of Matthews-Indian Trail Road and the new Chestnut Parkway, a central location that’s across from a new town park.
A new town hall will consolidate town functions under one roof, he said, while providing community groups such as homeowners associations and other organizations space to meet.
“With the growth, and at a time when interest rates are still low, it’s a good time to build a building,” Fivas said. “We hope ours will be there for 100 years.”
Discussion about a new town hall has been kicking around for more than a decade. It coincided with a period of rapid growth, with Indian Trail nearly tripling in size between 2000 and 2013. It now has an estimated population of more than 35,000.
Several public meetings on a town hall were held. In November, the Town Council approved a conceptual rendering of the project. “We heard people say they want a place of business that residents can take pride in,” Fivas said.
Plans call for a two-story building of 20,000 to 25,000 square feet. Preliminary cost estimates are expected in February, which will help Indian Trail determine the timetable for the project.
Mayor Michael Alvarez, however, said he had some concerns. He thinks the price tag will rise, doubts it will attract big businesses and believes voters should have had the chance to vote on the project.
“A new town hall is not a bad thing” he said. “But it belongs on a referendum with all the facts out there.”
Here’s how other communities have handled their moves:• Concord: Construction is underway on the $20 million, 75,000-square-foot city hall going up on Cabarrus Avenue next to police headquarters. As with other communities, Concord is consolidating services under one roof. The city’s main municipal building dates to 1950 and has housed government offices since 1986.
At that time, there were about 18,000 residents, but now Concord is home to more than 84,000 people. Its municipal services are spread out over several buildings, spokesman Peter Franzese said.
“We’ve just outgrown the space,” he said.• Kannapolis: In 2013, billionaire David Murdock donated 6.6 acres worth $9.5 million to Kannapolis for its new city hall to go in Murdock’s North Carolina Research Campus. The $33 million, 106,000-square-foot building should be ready for use by November, city spokeswoman Annette Privette Keller said.
There also will be public meeting space that can be rented out for wedding receptions, conferences and other functions.
The city will no longer need to lease space. Instead it will consolidate services, including its police headquarters, in one building for the first time, Privette Keller said.
Today, administrative offices sit in a rental building next to a Pizza Hut, while the police operate out of a former home and funeral parlor.• Mint Hill: The southern Mecklenburg County town opened its town hall in September 2012. The project cost $6.6 million and will provide much-needed space for the town for the next 20 years, Town Manager Brian Welch said. The change allowed the police department to move into the old town hall.
• Wingate: The Union County town hopes to start construction on a 15,000-square-foot fire department and town hall in July. The cost of the yearlong project is about $3.5 million, Town Manager Patrick Niland said. He said Wingate has outgrown its current space, which it rents.
• Wesley Chapel: The old town hall wasn’t even in town but in an unincorporated part of Union County. The village had rented offices and used a church fellowship hall for meeting space, Town Administrator Cheryl Bennett said.
But last February, its new, 6,300-square-foot, $1.4 million town hall opened. And this time, Bennett said, it is in the middle of town.• Boiling Springs: In the Cleveland County community, construction on the $2 million, 11,000-square-foot town hall should be done by midyear.
It will allow the town to move out of a former school building where one section is 100 years old. The facility also has no conference room and lacks adequate storage space, Town Manager Tom Hart said.
Staff writers Joe DePriest and Gavin Off contributed.