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August 2004
Center City Growth Pains and Gains
By Susanne Deitzel

      “Individual commitment to a group effort – that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work,” Vince Lombardi.

      Pick a local hot-button issue – any local issue. Chances are, if you research it hard enough you are going to end up seeing several quotes from Tim Newman, president of Charlotte Center City Partners. Whether it involves mass transit, CATS and light rail; the new arena construction; crime; parking; or historic preservation versus economic development – the debate is raging in his backyard.

      Newman’s backyard is the corner of Fourth and Tryon, where, from the 19th floor of the First Citizens Bank Building, he keeps an eye out for opportunity and a finger in most of the crucial development decisions that cross the Queen City’s borders.

      Charlotte Center City Partners, or CCCP, spearheads Center City as a Business Improvement District. According to Newman, “CCCP is responsible for the promotion, development and management of all things Center City, and more recently, South End.”

The I-77 loop to Central Piedmont Community College (CPCC) on Independence Boulevard, and the area down South Boulevard and Tryon Street to Remount Road, is shepherded by Newman, his twelve employees and a formidable board of directors. He is a highly visible and much appreciated figure in the city’s recent expansion efforts. His most high-profile achievements include the courtship of Johnson and Wales University, as well as the coordination of successful negotiations to up-fit the old Convention Center after several previously failed attempts.


Management, Migration, Marriages

      CCCP’s involvement in these partnerships varies according to need. Says Newman, “Sometimes, such as in the Johnson and Wales recruitment, we are active in matching up the appropriate parties. Other times we are involved in making a case for various projects, like the Convention Center up-fit, to city and county government. In others, we are directly involved in negotiations. We are here to be of the best use we can to the city’s interests, and that varies case by case.”

      One thing that is standard for Newman and CCCP is an irrefutable passion and commitment to take the city to “the next level.” Remarks Newman, “What makes a business district successful is when you can generate as much activity as you can accommodate, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The more feet on the street, the more options you have as a city, the more variety in the lifestyle, and the more safety and vitality

are assured.”

      The addition of Johnson and Wales (J&W) demonstrates this tenet nicely. J&W has created a spark throughout Third Ward by augmenting the vision for Gateway Village to become a thriving part of Center City. The area is now a thoroughfare of new retail shops, small businesses, and the fresh-looking campus of the renowned culinary and service institute.

      The sidewalks are full of young professionals and soon-to-be students armed with cups of coffee or water bottles. Plus, Center City’s crime statistics are lower now than anywhere else in the city.

      Says Newman of the phenomenon, “The school is set to open in September, but has already exceeded our expectations. We anticipated between 800 and 950 students for the first year, but J&W has 1,200 students scheduled. By full build-out in 2008, the expected 3,000 students could reasonably grow to four or five thousand.”

      Newman attributes this success to a combination of factors. “Charlotte is very fortunate to have great leadership. Its future was seeded by the vision of Hugh McColl, Ed Crutchfield and Bill Lee, and has been furthered by the commitment and talent of leaders like Ken Lewis, Ken Thompson and Tom Hughes, and relative newcomers like Krista Tillman and Art Gallagher.”

      Newman also places a lot of value in the extraordinarily cooperative and unified atmosphere among business leaders, local government and neighborhood representatives, which fuels the evolution of the city. “These groups help us to achieve a synthesis of all the various interests at the table. This way we increase our knowledge base, and subsequently, our productivity.”

      CCCP is funded by a municipal service levy of $1.5 million dollars paid by the various property owners of Center City. Says Newman, “The banks have a significant interest in our projects, as do Duke Power and BellSouth, by virtue of their property investment.”

“But,” he adds, “property investment is not the only consideration motivating their interest. There is also a sincere desire to maintain a prosperous and safe environment as well as attractive amenities to serve the interests and needs of a diverse workforce.”

      The levy covers the cost of CCCP personnel, the materials for maps, signs, flags and other promotional collateral for Tryon Street, as well as direct expenditures incurred in the production of downtown events, including Charlotte Mecklenburg city services necessary to keep the streets clean, Charlotte Mecklenburg police required for security, and rental items such as tables, tents, sound stages, and so forth.

      Considered complementary to prospecting, advocating and solidifying economic development in Center City Charlotte, CCCP manages and produces more than a dozen festivals and events in the Center City including the award-winning Charlotte Shout 2004 (in concert with J&W and the Compass Group), the Continental Tire Bowl Pep Rally, Wachovia Off the Wall Movie Fest, the Sunset Jazz Fest, the Center City Green Market, Taste of the Nation, the new Heritage Festival, Holidays in the City.

      Says Newman, “You have to keep the formula in balance; the city must be a great place to live, work and play.”


Pushing Buttons

      It all sounds great, so why so much controversy?

      Well, there was the 2001 ballot referendum to fund the new arena, which was rejected. Since the arena found its way into the city anyway, many voters felt their voices were being ignored. However, what many people may not realize is that the current arena is in a completely different location and funded by a completely different financial package than what was presented in the referendum.

      Explains Newman, “When looking at the referendum that failed, and the final solution the partners arrived at, you are really talking about apples and oranges.

The arena is funded by hospitality-related taxes that must be used for tourism-centered projects. This plan fuels the continued economic development around the arena by feeding into the tax base that funds it. It has been a very successful recipe elsewhere, and it will be successful here.”

      He adds, “The arena all-in capital investment was $265 million dollars; $200 million for the building, and $65 billion for the land and infrastructure. That amount is already being anticipated in a tax base being created by two groundbreaking, high-rise residential projects and the up-fitting of the old Convention Center. And, there is more to come. There is a master plan for development around the arena, properties around ‰ 7th and 9th Street, and more private sector initiatives on the horizon. I say we should let the results speak for themselves.”

      Newman holds the same philosophy with regard to the debate over funding of CATS (Charlotte Area Mass Transit) initiatives that continues to rage. “First of all, we cannot hope to improve our air quality relying on single-occupant auto traffic as we have in the past. The federal government recognizes this, and is expected to set aside one-half of the cost for the project of light rail, streetcars and a multi-modal station. State government has footed one-quarter of the bill, and the rest is covered in a dedicated revenue stream established by a 1998 referendum approving a one-half percent sales tax increase.”

      Newman says that while it has taken five years to get the trolley on the tracks, during the time the project was underway there was over $400 million in investments along the corridor in which it runs. He emphasizes, “That is activity generated by the trolley in essentially a non-transit function; once the additional three cars are installed this fall, it will truly fulfill a major function and create large scale incentives

for investment.”

      Newman chooses mass transit for himself whenever practical. “Our buses are nice, on-time and well-connected. This provides a reliable and safe new option for transport. Considering the right-of-way and other issues limiting our present options for highway growth, initial investment in this area will help get us where we need to be for future transit options.”


Progress and Evolution

      These initiatives were included in the original “2010 Plan,” a blueprint for the city’s strategic growth, and while there is an ongoing discussion about updating this plan or proposing a “2015 Plan,” the results to-date are reportedly favorable.

      “The transit plan has changed, the arena is in a completely different site, and the education corridor including CPCC, Johnson and Wales and Johnson C. Smith might be expanded. The evolution of the plan has required certain accommodations, but we feel our progress to be very positive,” says Newman.

      CCCP’s optimism extends to the ability to preserve valid historical assets like those undertaken in Spirit Square, the Historic Trolley and St. Peter’s Church, but explains that preservation must have a purpose.” We undertake preservation passionately where it is a best-fit and can provide a function to the area. We don’t believe in preservation just for preservation’s sake.”

      While negotiating the multitude of strongly divisive issues, Newman has shown the ability to evaluate many points of view and the strength to continue moving forward with general consensus. “While there may be disagreements by issue, all of the parties involved have the same mission: for Charlotte live up to its potential.”

      By all accounts, things are going well. Center City Charlotte is currently benefiting from $1 billion in construction value after construction, and the vacancy rate is on a decline. According to CCCP, there is a renewed interest in office space, a boom that fueled the expansion of the 1990s, and light industrial initiatives are being considered in South End. In addition to the big hitters like J&W and the Charlotte Bobcats, sundry smaller businesses have opted for Charlotte over competing cities. These additions continue to diversify the city’s economic base, which Newman says was paramount in seeing us through the past, tough economic cycle.

      “Charlotte was able to experience significant growth through the challenges of the economic downturn, the 9/11 disaster, and losing the Hornets,” says Newman, “That says quite a bit for the strength and commitment of the community.”

      Newman has also been involved with other city leaders like Ken Thompson of Wachovia and Michael Tarwater of Carolinas HealthCare in ‘Business Strengthening America’ Initiatives. This collaboration has culminated in the addition of new playgrounds in Progress Park and Idlewild Elementary School.

     Newman concludes, “The thing I love most about this city is watching it grow, and seeing it enjoyed by everyone – regardless of their economic situation. We are going to continue growing the job base – because the best social program in the world is a job – and watch the city become more fortified in the process.”
Susanne Deitzel is a Charlotte-based freelance writer.
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