Kannapolis plans for its future

Kannapolis city officials will host two meetings this month to inform residents about its pending purchase of 46 acres of downtown real estate.

The meetings will be 6-7 p.m. April 15 and 20 at the Kannapolis Train Station, 201 S. Main St. A presentation will include details about the purchase, why the city’s buying the property and the steps it will take to develop a strategic revitalization plan.

Kannapolis staff and City Council members hosted the first meeting on March 30 at the Kannapolis Train Station, where Kannapolis City Manager Mike Legg gave a 45-minute presentation with details of the city’s $5.55 million agreement with David Murdock, Dole Food Co. owner and founder of the North Carolina Research Campus.

The deal includes eight blocks of buildings throughout the former Cannon Village, including the Gem Theatre, Kannapolis City Hall offices and the Kannapolis Police Department and vacant land.

City Council members and the mayor on March 16 signed an intent-to-purchase contract and plan to hold a public hearing regarding the purchase on May 11, Legg said. City Council likely will hire a property management company at that meeting.

Roughly 60 people attended the first meeting, and those who spoke, expressed support. Legg also laid out potential parts of the city’s strategic development plan that will be implemented during the next decade.

Plans could range from building a new baseball stadium for the Kannapolis Initimidators to adding performing arts venues, apartments, restaurants and entertainment-based venues.

While city officials predict the redevelopment of downtown Kannapolis will take a decade, residents at the meeting said they want to see activity sooner.

Kannapolis is in the midst of a 120-day due diligence period, but the city is ready to move forward with the purchase, Legg said. City leaders said the bond financing should be approved by the state by June 2. The city will close on the property in mid-July, Legg said.

Cabarrus County Commissioner Steve Morris, who runs the Gem Theatre in Kannapolis, said he hasn’t heard of any opposition to the city’s development of downtown.

“I have heard many positive comments,” Morris said. “… (The city) is being very deliberate in formulating the specific plan and not jumping ahead of themselves. I think that is wise. I feel very good about the help they have recruited to come up with the best overall strategy.”

Morris is talking about the Development Finance Initiative, which has been charged with attracting developers to downtown. Part of the UNC Chapel Hill’s School of Government, the firm has agreed to a 10-year, $85,000 contract with the city of Kannapolis.

The company also will get a 1 percent fee paid by each developer for projects that come to downtown, but only if certain obligations are met, Legg said. City Council, Kannapolis staff and DFI officials expect to have a planning retreat this month.

DFI formed in 2011 and has had 64 development projects in 50 communities across the state, but the Kannapolis project is its biggest yet.

City officials also will look at other downtown redevelopment projects during the next six months.

Resident Jeff Johnson asked if a property tax increase would eventually help fund development efforts.

“I want to get prepared for what it’s actually going to cost me to revitalize my city, which I’m for because we do need that,” said Johnson. “I want to get prepared because I’ve got a 10-year plan for my family, too.”

City officials don’t expect a dramatic property tax increase, Legg said, because the property purchased has a current tax value of about $23 million, which is less than 1 percent of the city’s tax base.

Roughly $14 million in infrastructure work will be needed to update water and sewer lines, which are up to 75 years old, but the city already has budgeted for nearly 80 percent of the needed improvements, Legg said.

A vibrant downtown will be an essential piece of economic development, said Annette Privette Keller, the director of communications for the city. “It could be a lot better, and that’s what we recognize,” Keller said.

While overall goals include job creation and re-creating the town’s identity, Keller likens the purchase to buying a house.

“We haven’t finished closing on it, but we’re making a to-do list and prioritizing our budget,” she said. “All the pieces of the puzzle have come together at a very opportune time. Sometimes, I feel that’s an over-used analogy, but it’s seems perfect for us right now.

“…It’s also that time when growth comes up the interstate from a metropolitan area… and we’re trying very hard to be prepared for it and do it right.”

Johnson: 704-358-5089