Mecklenburg County to finish paying CMS $6 million for old Board of Education building

A mixed-use development that includes condos, restaurants and office space is planned for Second Ward.
A mixed-use development that includes condos, restaurants and office space is planned for Second Ward. Mecklenburg County

Mecklenburg County commissioners Wednesday approved giving Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools the last of two payments part of a complicated land swap that helps move the needle on plans to redevelop Second Ward.

The county will pay CMS $6.3 million to round out its purchase of the former Board of Education building on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard next to Marshall Park. The building is part of the county’s plans to turn 17 acres of land in Second Ward into Brooklyn Village, a mixed-use development named for the predominantly African-American community that once stood there but was razed during the “urban renewal” of the late 1960s.

Wednesday’s unanimous vote fulfills the county’s vow to buy the building for $16.3 million and fold it into the redevelopment project. The purchase was part of a series of land swaps crucial to opening BB&T BallPark and Romare Bearden Park in uptown.

The county gave CMS $10 million, the first half of the payment, in 2014 to help the schools buy and renovate new headquarters off Interstate 77, county finance director Wanda Reeves said.

The remaining $6.3 million will fund CMS capital projects and comes from the county’s Pay-Go Fund, a pot of money devoted to capital investments that accumulates over time.

Buying the building is the latest step in the county’s efforts to move forward on transforming $60 million worth of real-estate in Second Ward into the long-awaited Brooklyn Village, once billed to include condos, restaurants, office space and a hotel. It narrowed its search for a developer to three local firms and plans to choose one by March.

Yet, amid discussion about giving CMS the money it is owed, some commissioners were concerned about footing costs for the same building twice.

“The county built that building, paid for that building one time and we’re paying for that building again,” said commissioner Vilma Leake.

Echoing Leake’s comments, commissioner Bill James urged the board to ask state lawmakers to change rules requiring the county to compensate CMS for reclaiming the building.

“The solution to this problem is to recommend the legislature fix a 70-year-old law so that we don’t have to do this this way,” James said. “Imagine you buy a house, you pay for the house and then you have to buy it again – which, in essence, is what we're doing.”

County attorney Marvin Bethune told the board the law is a provision of the North Carolina Constitution and, if they want to lobby for change, their reach would have to be broader.

Jonathan McFadden: 704-358-6045, @JmcfaddenObsGov