Lake Norman & Mooresville

Details don’t sway foes of downtown plan

Rusty Knox, a Davidson real estate agent and popular local musician, captured the mood of many town residents last week toward a proposal to redevelop a portion of the downtown area.

“We’ve got this postcard that’s downtown, and we want to keep it,” Knox said during an information session Oct. 20 on a study exploring possibilities for redeveloping a 3.5-acre site that includes Town Hall and the town’s police and fire stations.

Knowing nods flowed through much of the overflow crowd, which spilled from the Town Hall meeting chamber onto an outdoor balcony and into the lobby.

Those nods became cheers when Knox referred to comments Mayor John Woods made to open the meeting. Woods had noted the explosive population and development growth in nearby Mooresville, Cornelius and Huntersville, and warned that Davidson faced similar challenges in the face of the Charlotte region’s resurgent economy.

“We are not Mooresville; we are not Cornelius; we are not Huntersville,” Knox declared. “We don’t want to be Mooresville; we don’t want to be Cornelius; we don’t want to be Huntersville.”

By the time Knox finished, his words were barely audible above the clapping, cheering audience.

It was the fifth public forum in what so far has been a year-long feasibility study by Davidson and the UNC Chapel Hill School of Government into using the town-owned site for a mixed-use development. The project’s leaders unveiled drawings and models of a project that could include:

▪ As many as 80-100 condos or apartments.

▪ A 125-room hotel with as much as 10,000 feet of meeting space.

▪ About 28,000 square feet of retail space.

▪ About 12,000 square feet of office space.

▪ 25,000 square feet for town administrative and public safety needs. The current Town Hall is about 15,800 square feet.

▪ A plaza and new green spaces for the market, festivals and other public events.

▪ A new cobblestone “market street” between South Main and Jackson streets that could triple the available space for Davidson’s popular farmer’s market.

The project is referred to as the Downtown Catalyst Study, and its name cuts to the core of complaints from opponents such as Knox, who say the last thing the town needs to do is encourage more development in an already bustling downtown.

“We’re selling our most valuable entity – which is this 3  1/2 acres – for development,” Knox said.

Several citizens at the meeting questioned why the town would want to bring new homes to an already traffic-clogged downtown where public parking is at a premium.

“The idea is, if we have to have growth – and we can’t stop it – let’s have it in a form that allows people to operate with fewer trips than they would if they were outside a mixed-use area like this,” Town Manager Leamon Brice replied. “The folks who live (downtown) will create maybe half as many car trips per day as the folks who live outside of downtown, away from the amenities that are there.”

The project’s leaders have made similar arguments in advocating for a hotel and conference center by noting that only about half of guests would likely come in their own vehicles and that even those who do will likely leave them parked during much of their stay.

Renderings introduced at the latest meeting included new two- to three-story buildings along Main Street, and structures of up to five floors along Jackson Street. The five-story buildings drew some initial gasps from the audience, but the School of Government’s Rory Dowling noted that Jackson Street sits about 16 feet lower than Main Street, so the top of the taller buildings would be about even with the shorter buildings along Main Street.

Dowling said the next steps are to solicit proposals from developers, and to determine the best way to finance the project – if it is feasible. Construction could begin as early as next summer, he added. Ultimately, though, the town board will have to decide whether to move forward.

“We’re only just getting started,” Dowling said.

John Deem is a freelance writer: