At the kick-off of the Decade of Progress Committee campaign, organized to promote the passage of the Uptown Bundled Projects Referendum, co-chair Johnny Harris spoke passionately about the purpose of the group, the importance of the June 5th referendum and the future of Charlotte. “The idea behind the proposed package of uptown projects is not really new. We are asking Charlotte voters to do something that they have done every decade for the last three decades...to invest in the future. Over the last ten years we have invested $330 million in capital funds on projects such as the Charlotte Convention Center, the Discovery Place expansion and the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center. Think what this community would be like without those investments.
“Just as we have done in the past, we must continue to be the best we can be.
“Our future is dependent upon competing every day for new business, new ideas and new minds. By passing this referendum, we are charting a course that will ensure a decade of progress for the future of Charlotte. We want to build and improve upon the quality of life that we are so determined to establish and maintain for generations to come,” continued Harris as he encouraged supporters to campaign on behalf of the referendum that would approve funding for a collection of projects to be developed in the uptown area.
Charlotte city council members have already voted to approve the bundled projects, however, certain members promised constituents the chance to vote on these projects in a referendum. The state legislature agreed to call for the referendum and has scheduled it to be conducted on June 5, 2001 in Charlotte city precincts. Voters must be registered by May 11, 2001 to be eligible to vote in this special election. Polling places will be open from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. on that day for voters to express their support or rejection. Absentee ballots may also be cast.
Only residents of the city of Charlotte will be allowed to vote on this referendum since all taxes and fees used to fund these projects will be imposed exclusively within the city; no Mecklenburg County funds will be used. Funding for the package of projects will be generated primarily through taxes on hotel, motel and car rental fees. Additional revenues will be created from rents paid for use of the new arena and a three percent user fee on tickets sold for events at the Charlotte Coliseum, Cricket Arena and other city-owned facilities.
Without passage of this referendum, the projects cannot move forward on the necessary schedule of construction to ensure that the Hornets remain in Charlotte and the other projects be completed within the next ten years. The referendum will be non-binding, though, and therefore if it fails, it will not necessarily preclude development of some or all of the bundled project plans.
A Look at the Combined Package
The Uptown Bundled Projects are combined in a package that is projected to cost $342 million in public spending over the next ten years. All together, they are expected to produce additional entertainment and cultural activities within our center city that will draw more visitors and make Charlotte more attractive as a destination for tourists and conventions and, as a result, bring new dollars and spending to our center city district.
The City Council, with recommendations from the Arts and Science Council, has identified the seven individual projects to be included in the referendum as follows:
The majority of the funds, $205 million, would be used to build a new multipurpose entertainment/sports arena. To be located on 10 acres surrounded by Mint, Graham, Third and Fourth Streets, the proposed arena would include five levels, up to 20,000 seats, a practice court, a broadcast center, a team store, outdoor terraces, 70 luxury boxes and 2,500 club seats. This arena would be owned by the city of Charlotte and leased by the Hornets under a 25-year lease. The building is being designed to seat 18,500 for basketball; it can be expanded to 20,000 seats for other events as needed. Initial drawings were created at the instruction of Hornets owners by the architectural firm of Ellerbe Becket, designers of thirteen other NBA arenas located throughout the country including New York’s Madison Square Garden, Boston’s Fleet Center and the Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
The Mint Museum
With $41 million in new funds, the Mint Museum would be relocated to uptown, where larger audiences could enjoy its expansion and events, and programs would be enhanced to become nationally recognized activities.
With $30 million in new funds, Discovery Place would be expanded and renovated at its current location enabling the Science Center to more adequately meet the demands of school groups coming to the museum. Classes, exhibit space and visitor services would be enlarged in line with a comprehensive Master Concept and Feasibility plan that has been created for the next 10 to 25 years.
With $25 million in new funds, the city would build a new 12,000-seat red brick ballpark in the historic South End to house the Charlotte Knights, returning the team to their roots in the heart of Charlotte. Construction would start in 2002, with the first ball to be thrown in 2004. The stadium, modeled partly on Victory Field in Indianapolis, would complement other recent projects in the South End and help re-create the intimate, homey former Crockett Park, the Knights’ former Charlotte home. Team officials expect a new ballpark in Charlotte’s center city will boost attendance by 6,000 per game.
The Carolina Theatre
With $13.8 million in new funds from the referendum, the Carolina Theatre would resume its former glory through an adaptive re-use of the facility. In a restored condition, the theater would provide performance space for emerging artists and art groups who are not currently part of the programs offered by the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center.
The Afro-American Cultural Center
With proceeds of approximately $10 million, the Afro-American Center programs, events and activities would be expanded to increase its ability to serve a larger audience. Through joint programming with other local, regional and national arts groups, the center would accommodate more school groups and encourage more community-based cultural heritage education and traditions.
New revenues of $200,000 would foster expansion of Theatre Charlotte and make its facilities available to many generations and attract quality productions, innovative theater and a comprehensive acting school.
What City Leaders Are Saying:
Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory was a strong advocate in favor of the package of spending proposals at the Decade of Progress kick-off. He said, “We need to continue to prepare this community, this city and this region for the future. For the first time in twelve years since I have been in public service, we finally have a plan in place where we are looking for the long term, putting everything together and saying these are the capital projects that are going expand our quality of life for the future. That is called leadership and vision.”
Others speaking in favor of the bundled projects referendum included Bank of America’s Hugh McColl, Reverend Claude Alexander, pastor of University Park Baptist Church, and Judy Allison, senior vice president of First Union Bank. McColl emphasized the continuum of community service and commitment Charlotte has long enjoyed saying, “In adopting this vision and passing this referendum, we’ll keep faith to the vision of those who have committed their lives to this city in the past. Together, we will build on their vision for our children and the future.”
Reverend Alexander, also a co-chair of the Decade of Progress Committee, clarified the question of funding for the projects. “First, let me tell you how they will not be paid for...no new property taxes. Funding will be generated through taxes on hotel/motel rooms and car rentals in Charlotte only, as well as from rent and use of the new arena and a user fee on tickets sold to events in city-owned facilities.” He concluded, “The June 5th referendum presents an opportunity for us to make Charlotte an even better place to live and grow with our families.”
Judy Allison, the other co-chair of the Decade of Progress Committee, began by chiding Hugh McColl about the competition between Bank of America and First Union, but then said, “When it comes to our community, there is no competition. We are all in this together.” She then pointed out, “This is really a defining moment for our city. This referendum is about opportunity.
At First Union, I see a lot of young faces, talented young people who have come to Charlotte and relocated here because they believe it is the place to be. They want to make their homes here and build for their future here. They see Charlotte as a place of opportunity. Yet, I’ve heard stories recently about losing recruits to places like Cleveland and Pittsburgh that we have never lost to before.
Those cities have made decisions to reinvest in their downtowns and create new cultural and sports districts. An uptown arena for Charlotte will provide millions of new dollars for Charlotte area businesses and restaurants and new exposure to cultural and arts destinations.”
Speaking about a recent experience, she went on to say, “I spoke to a group of people who had many questions and misconceptions about this referendum. But once those questions had been answered, that the numbers work here and this makes financial sense for our city — and once they learned that this does not involve property tax increases, and that this is part of a long term strategy for Charlotte’s economic gain, and that this will have positive effects for years to come for our children and our families — they understood its value.”