In his 16 years in Charlotte, Ron Kimble became known as the city’s deal maker.
Kimble choreographed the city’s role in countless projects: The Levine Center for the Arts that’s anchored by the 48-story Duke Energy Center. Renovations to Bank of America Stadium. BB&T Ballpark. The NASCAR Hall of Fame. The Metropolitan mixed-use development on Charlottetown Avenue.
After former city manager Ron Carlee’s departure in July, Kimble became the city’s interim manager. He’s expected to stay with the city for a month or two after a new manager is hired, which will likely be in the fall.
Kimble said he will then work for the Jamie Kimble Foundation for Courage, which he and his wife founded after his daughter was shot and killed four years ago by an ex-boyfriend in Florida.
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“My passion for the next 30 years to come is domestic violence prevention,” Kimble said.
In his time in Charlotte, Kimble led the city’s economic development efforts and was the bridge to Charlotte’s private-sector power players.
One of his proudest accomplishments was the blockbuster Center for the Arts, which was spearheaded by Wachovia before it was bought by Wells Fargo. It includes the city’s second-tallest skyscraper, three museums and the Knight Theater.
The museums were funded by an increase in the car rental tax, which Kimble shepherded through Raleigh.
“That project happened because Wachovia was one of the greatest partners one could ever imagine,” Kimble said. “That day has come and gone. We’ll see if any partners can be as strong as that was.”
Bob Morgan, president of the Charlotte Chamber, said Kimble’s fingerprints are on virtually every recent public-private partnership in the city.
“He’s the consummate deal maker,” Morgan said. “He knows how to work within the political realities of working within the City Council. He knows how to cut deals and how to work with partners in the private sector.”
Kimble, 63, joined the city in 2000 after being city manager in Greenville, N.C. He twice applied to become city manager, but council members picked Curt Walton for the job in 2007 and then Ron Carlee in 2013.
Kimble often urged council to tap the county’s hotel/motel and restaurant taxes to fund a number of projects. Because many of his projects involved subsidizing sports teams – owned by millionaires – he often faced skepticism, both from City Council members and the public.
Associates say Kimble was skilled at foreseeing roadblocks – and positioning people to overcome them.
Developer Peter A. Pappas, who partnered with the city on the Metropolitan mixed-use development, said Kimble always “thinks several moves ahead.”
Charlotte Knights general manager Dan Rajkowksi, who built the new BB&T Ballpark with $8 million in city funding, said Kimble helped him understand what the City Council valued.
“He told me how important it was to lay out the details and the facts, and how to present those in a manner that they could look at and make an educated decision,” he said.
Charlotte Hornets president Fred Whitfield negotiated with Kimble two years ago over $33.5 million in renovations to Time Warner Cable Arena. The city said the renovations were required under the city’s lease with the team, which called on the arena to remain state-of-the-art.
But the agreement was a difficult to swallow because the arena had just opened in 2005. The Hornets planned to renovate their suites and had originally asked the city to fund that. Kimble pushed back, saying tax dollars couldn’t be used to refurbish luxury boxes.
In the end, the Hornets spent their own money on the suites. The City Council approved the upgrades.
“We agreed to invest in the suites,” Whitfield said. “Suites aren’t always open to everyone in the city. He felt like the city’s investments should be open to everyone.”
When council members approved the arena renovations, Kimble and the Hornets said an upside would be the ability for Charlotte to host an NBA All-Star game.
Earlier this year, council members expanded the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance to include legal protections for the LGBT community. That led to the General Assembly passing House Bill 2, which nullified that ordinance and caused a national backlash.
In the spring, a review of city emails showed that Kimble was trying to get Mayor Jennifer Roberts and other city leaders to “deescalate” their negative comments about HB2.
HB2 ultimately led the NBA to cancel the 2017 All-Star Game in Charlotte.
When asked about the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance, and its ensuing fight over HB2, Kimble said, “I respect the votes of my elected leadership. If they believe they did the right thing, then I need to support that. I must respect that and I do respect that.” He declined to say his personal opinion on the council’s actions.
Carlee was manager for three years before Kimble became interim.
The two men had different interests.
While Kimble’s job focused on economic development, Carlee’s tenure will be remembered for his dedication to social issues, such as the city “banning the box,” in which the city doesn’t initially ask job applicants about their criminal record. He also boosted the compensation of the city’s lowest-paid workers. He spoke passionately about a resolution that said the police wouldn’t engage in racial profiling.
And he urged Roberts to fight for the city’s expanded nondiscrimination ordinance.
Not all of Kimble’s projects happened as he and other boosters had hoped.
The most notable is the NASCAR Hall of Fame, whose attendance was a fraction of what the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority projected before it opened six years ago.
Kimble helped the city win the hall over Atlanta and Daytona Beach, in part with a pledge to pay for the hall entirely with public funds. (Kimble helped convince the legislature to approve an increase in the hotel/motel occupancy tax to pay for it.)
The hall struggled with operating deficits that often reached $1 million. Four years after the hall opened, Kimble was the city’s main negotiator with Bank of America and Wells Fargo, which agreed on a plan to forgive the hall’s $19.1 million in debt.
And Kimble’s big ideas sometimes couldn’t overcome private market realities. A plan to build an amateur sports complex adjacent to Bojangles’ Coliseum collapsed two years ago, when the only interested developer couldn’t get financing.
The city has also been unable to redevelop the site of Eastland Mall, a brownfield site that’s far removed from uptown.
‘For our daughter’
In 2013, the City Council approved a Kimble-led plan to spend $87.5 million in hospitality tax money to make improvements to Bank of America Stadium. As part of the agreement, the Carolina Panthers agreed to allow the city to use the stadium in the winter and summer rent-free, a savings of $250,000 per event.
Panthers president Danny Morrison said Kimble was “a very tough negotiator but fair.”
One of the first rent-free events was a soccer game between Liverpool and A.C. Milan in 2014. Kimble and his wife’s foundation was honored at halftime.
Four summers ago, Jamie Kimble saw a Liverpool game while traveling in England. The next day, she flew home to Tampa.
A former boyfriend confronted her at the airport. They began arguing. She got out of the car. He shot and killed her, before killing himself.
“Our daughter went to her first international soccer match the day before she died,” Kimble said. “She texted me and said this is so unbelievable, I have to tell you about my trip to England.”
Kimble went back to work. He negotiated the agreement with the Panthers, a deal that included the rent-free days.
“I led the effort to make sure that Liverpool Football Club was the first soccer team, that was the first event. I went after Liverpool for our community, for our stadium, and for our daughter.”
Ron Kimble may not be working for the city when these deals move forward, but he said he believes the next two major public-private partnerships are a rebuilt Memorial Stadium for the Charlotte Independence soccer team and some sort of public investment in swimming.
Rebuilding Memorial Stadium in Elizabeth is farther along. Under a tentative plan between Mecklenburg County, the team and the city, each would spend about $8 million to widen the field for soccer and to rebuild the stands. The City Council could vote on that renovation later this year.
Kimble said the city has had “preliminary” conversations about building facilities to improve the city’s swimming facilities.
Mecklenburg County recently spent $8.6 million renovating the downtown 50-meter swimming pool.
Kimble said one possibility would be to build a second pool adjacent to Mecklenburg County Aquatic Center.
“We know that swimming is growing,” Kimble said. “We haven’t yet decided and talked deeply about what kinds of facilities we might need – where and who they should serve. That’s the next wave of discussions.” Steve Harrison