Council QuickiesNews & Opinion

Council Quickies: $275-Million Spectrum Center Project Approved

Upgrades and new development paves the way for Hornets lease extension

Patrick Cannon
City council met for a business meeting on Monday night and held a vote on Spectrum Center updates. (Photo courtesy of City of Charlotte)

Charlotte City Council met for a business meeting on Monday night, with the main event coming in the form of a public hearing, discussion and a vote on whether to approve new spending on Spectrum Center renovations and a new practice facility that will lead to a lease extension, keeping the Charlotte Hornets in Charlotte through at least 2045.

On the agenda:

  • Municipal Service Districts, 7th & Tryon Updates
  • Strategic Mobility Plan Public Forum
  • Hornets Contract Extension, Development
  • Other Business Items

Municipal Service Districts, 7th & Tryon Updates

Michael Smith with Charlotte City Partners and Tobe Holmes with University City Partners led annual reports on their respective municipal service districts.

Malcolm Graham asked Smith if he had heard anything about more retail shopping venues coming to Uptown, as it is one of the questions he hears most from constituents there. Smith said there are some potential businesses that are looking into Uptown that he could discuss offline.

Asked about businesses moving from Uptown to South End, Smith said, “I have zero concern about businesses moving to a different part of Uptown that is seeing new growth.” He said those moves help extend the city’s central business district. “It is good for our market.”

“We did some work around homelessness 10 years ago, and we thought we moved from episodic to something that was comprehensive, but it turns out we were only looking through a tight aperture. This one looks wider but that makes it harder,” Smith said of the city and county’s new homelessness plan.

Tobe Holmes with University City Partners said one of the biggest issues the area faces is abandoned shopping carts, which stem from a mix of people trying to bring their groceries and other goods to a bus stop/light rail station as well as sometimes from folks experiencing homelessness.

D4 rep Renee Johnson pointed out that the UCP budget is around $1 million as compared to $6 million for CCP, which Holmes explained is due to the difference in property tax revenues between the two districts.

Johnson said she would like to see the gap closed some. Larken Egleston clarified that the budget for each municipal service district is completely predicated on how much property tax revenue comes from that district, so any raise in a budget for either would mean a raise in taxes.

Assistant city manager Tracy Dobson gave an update on the 7th and Tryon project, a $600-million mixed-use development on a 3.1-acre site bounded by North Tryon, Seventh, College, and Sixth streets in Uptown, including the new library.

This development will generate an estimated $4.7M in property tax revenue annually, and will create 4,000+ full-time jobs as well as 1,200+ construction jobs as it’s built. There is $18.7M earmarked for affordable housing.

Staff’s ask from council is $11.8M tonight. Driggs asks to confirm that, if that ask is approved, “We’re done then, right?” After five years of planning, he appears to be ready for the work to start.

Later in the night, council approved the spending.

Strategic Mobility Plan Public Forum

The night’s first public comment forum was on the Strategic Mobility Plan, beginning with Elina Shephard of Sustain Charlotte. She voiced support for the SMP. “We enthusiastically support the goal to reduce the percentage of people driving to work alone from 76% to 50%.”

SMP supporter Frank Devine said he is “by no means a cyclist,” but only because of safety concerns. “If you build a city for cars, that’s what you get. If you build a city for bicycles, that’s what you’ll get.” He wants protected bike lanes, “and I mean protected … People don’t feel safe riding a bike.”

A family traverses bike lanes with cars driving near them on a rainy road.
The Parkwood bike lanes opened in October 2021. (Photo by David Flower)

The next speaker echoed Devine in that she is concerned the city isn’t doing enough to work toward the goal of #VisionZero, including properly maintaining roads and bike lanes. She said the city is not tracking fatalities and other traffic safety stats the way it should.

The last speaker on that topic was Joseph Margolis, who echoed the concerns voiced by Renee Johnson in an earlier meeting that the SMP does not offer a lot for University City. He lives off University City Boulevard and cannot safely walk or cycle to the light rail stop three miles from his home.

Spectrum Center Spending

With a motion made to approve the proposed Spectrum Center development, including renovations to the existing arena and a new multi-use development anchored by a Hornets practice facility, residents were allowed to address council in a public forum before the vote.

Pierre Bader, owner of Sonoma Restaurant Group in Uptown, said he supports the project, though he admitted that he was there for a selfish reason because every time there is an event at the arena his restaurants are packed. “It’s the money best spent.”

Grace Fendrick spoke against this project and “the scam that is stadium subsidies.” She said she is aware the city is contractually obligated to spend much of the money, but emphasized that is only because a past council went against the will of voters by funding the arena.

A rendering of the Spectrum Center development with the Gold Line passing through a busy street closed off to cars.
A conceptual rendering of the new practice facility/mixed-use development (left) looking northwest on East Trade Street across from Spectrum Center. (Courtesy of City of Charlotte)

“The idea that a practice facility will bring in any meaningful economic benefit to this city is laughable … I implore you all to stop touting these lies in order to justify your own poor investment decisions. Tell owners, ‘Pay for your own damn stadiums,'” Fendrick said.

Charles Held said he led efforts to oppose funding for the arena back when 57% of voters opposed it “because they were well-informed.” He said to listen to the experts, pointing out that every study shows that subsidized arenas are losing investments, as none of them make profits for the subsidizing municipalities.

Moving on to council discussion, Larken Egleston emphasized that this is not Michael Jordan’s arena, not the Hornets’ arena, it is the city of Charlotte’s arena, and these updates and renovations are improving an asset for the city.

Egleston pointed out that 80% of the funding up for approval on Monday is money the city has to spend on the arena, and even if he doesn’t disagree with some of the speakers who are upset with what happened 20 years ago, the council couldn’t relitigate or vote on that if they wanted to.

Dimple Ajmera clarified that, even if the city weren’t contractually obligated to spend $215M on the arena, the money is coming from a pool that must be spent on tourism projects like this one. It could not go to affordable housing, public safety or any other issue.

Tariq Bokhari said the council is currently working this deal out with a leg and an arm tied behind their back because of the bad contract signed 20 years ago, but added that the work Tracy Dodson and staff have done to make it palatable is akin to “pulling a rabbit out of a hat.”

As with some of her colleagues, Julie Eiselt said she would vote Yes but only because she knows that the originally proposed plan to relocate the Charlotte Transportation Center to go below the new practice facility, which will be located where the current CTC is across from Spectrum, is not finalized.

There are still many questions around where the new CTC will go, as there are major concerns about building it underground. That will all be ironed out over the summer.

The motion passed, with Braxton Winston casting the only No vote.

Other Business Items

Council voted unanimously to abolish the petition process for communities to implement traffic-calming projects such as speed bumps and multi-way stops. The petition process required signatures from 60% of residents in impact areas surrounding a proposed traffic-calming project. This created barriers for projects outside of The Wedge, where residents are less likely to have time to put into petitioning neighbors.

Discussing Phase 3 of the City LYNX Gold Line project, John Lewis with CATS said new design research for Phase 3 will aim to make the Gold Line operate more like the Blue Line rather than having to operate in traffic, which has led to delays for the existing Gold Line. He says dedicated lanes may not be possible on parts of the route but there are other solutions.

A Gold Line stop in west Charlotte with colorful glass artwork surrounding a bench.
A CATS CityLYNX Gold Line stop at Johnson C. Smith University on West Trade Street, featuring artwork by George Bates. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

Ed Driggs said he would vote No on the Gold Line Phase 3. He said he hasn’t been shown evidence of positive economic impact along the corridors where it already exists and thinks the money could be spent better on other projects. “I don’t see the value in a train that moves about in traffic.”

That motion passed, with Bokhari, Driggs and Johnson casting the only No votes.

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