River District will bring massive growth – but what will it cost taxpayers?

The River District, empty land for now.
The River District, empty land for now.

With one of the biggest developments in Charlotte’s history taking shape on the city’s western fringes, developers are touting a new study that shows how many jobs and how much tax revenue the River District is expected to bring.

Charlotte-based Crescent Communities and Lincoln Harris are planning to develop a huge, mixed-use community west of Charlotte Douglas International Airport. It’s an area that’s largely undeveloped, without the roads, water and sewer systems necessary to build millions of square feet of new development.

Since Charlotte City Council approved the rezoning petition for the River District last year, the developers have been working to negotiate an agreement about who will pay for all the infrastructure to handle thousands of new car trips and millions of gallons of water per day. The city has allocated $16.2 million from the latest capital improvement bonds to extend West Boulevard, and early estimates from city staff showed about $131 million more for infrastructure could be needed for the development.

An early projection for the first phase showed the developers would pay for $25 million for improvements such as a local road network, with another $15 million financed through a tax increment grant subsidy – essentially a payment to the developers based on expected future tax revenues. Future phases of the River District would require tens of millions more worth of infrastructure spending.

The city of Charlotte is expected to annex the River District property as development proceeds. The project is on a scale similar to Ballantyne, which over the past 25 years has transformed fields, woods and farmland on Charlotte’s periphery into a booming mini-city and second center of development for the region.

On Thursday, staff will update Charlotte City Council’s economic development committee on where the negotiations stand and how much of the tab taxpayers might be picking up. City Council is expected to vote on the agreement this fall.

In advance of Thursday’s meeting, the developers have released a new report estimating that the River District could bring 51,000 new jobs and about $5.6 billion of annual economic output when it’s complete in 30 years. They’re trying to convince the city to invest in the infrastructure.

“The River District will be a vibrant and diverse place that fosters unprecedented economic vitality, creating significant positive impact on Charlotte, specifically west Charlotte, and the region through tax base creation, job creation and community benefits,” said Brian Leary, president of Crescent Communities’ commercial/mixed-use division.

“What the study shows, and what has been proven out across the country through other public-private-partnerships, is that the public sector can catalyze significant returns for public benefit when the private sector has the necessary infrastructure to support mixed-use communities for people to live, work and play,” said Leary.

The report estimates that the total development over 30 years would generate 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). The city could generate about $302 million in net fiscal impact from the development over the same time.

Built as now conceived, the River District would generate $2.7 billion worth of new taxable property, along with 51,000 new, permanent jobs, the analysis said. The total annual economic impact at full build-out, which would take about 30 years, could be $5.6 billion, counting wages, sales and other spending.

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 – about a third of the space in SouthPark mall.

▪ 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.

Ely Portillo: 704-358-5041, @ESPortillo