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Weekly News Roundup: Trump’s Charlotte Visit Raises Opportunity Zone Questions

Pro-Trump and anti-Trump protestors gather at Elizabeth Park, across the street from CPCC Central Campus, in anticipation of President Trump’s arrival to speak at the Opportunity Now Summit. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

Trump Touts Opportunity Zones During Charlotte Appearance

President Donald Trump arrived in Charlotte on Friday to speak at the Opportunity Now Summit being held at Central Piedmont Community College in Uptown, taking credit for the “opportunity zones” that look to spur investment by offering tax breaks to developers in low-income areas.

“We believe in no American left behind, and that’s what it’s all about,” Trump said.

However, many have warned against the harmful effects of opportunity zones, which can inspire well-off developers to take advantage of tax advantages they don’t need by redeveloping areas where residents whose families have lived in the area for generations are most vulnerable to displacement, as was pointed out by Rep. Alma Adams in a statement released following Trump’s speech.

“President Trump focused on a plan to make the rich richer at the expense of our neighborhoods,” she stated. “If ‘capitalism without rules is theft,’ that description perfectly fits Donald Trump’s unregulated opportunity zones. Under his law, investors can build luxury apartments in some neighborhoods, raising the price of housing, and get a tax break for it. I think that’s wrong, it’s out of touch with Charlotte’s needs, and that’s why I’ve introduced legislation to keep things like casinos, parking lots, and luxury condos out of Charlotte’s opportunity zones. Charlotte needs a President who supports affordable housing, not a Gentrifier-in-Chief.”

Adams was one of three congress members to introduce the Opportunity Zone Reform Act in November.

Outside of the Overcash building where Trump spoke, less than 50 people gathered in Elizabeth Park to either show their support for Trump or protest his appearance. On the pro-Trump side were followers of the QAnon conspiracy cult and former Charlotte city council member and N.C. Rep. Andy Dulin.

CPCC student Wes McNeely, on the other hand, went to the park to protest the president because he was “disgusted” that Trump would visit his school. “I showed up to protest Donald Trump and everything having to do with him, including Opportunity Now Summit,” McNeely said. “The west side of Charlotte is not an opportunity zone. It’s not a play-toy set of building blocks for Trump and the elites to corrupt and tamper with.”

Atrium Health Announces Hourly Wage Increase

Atrium Health’s Carolinas Medical Center – Main. (Photo courtesy of Atrium Health)

Healthcare giant Atrium Health announced on Friday that the company will raise the minimum wage for its 10,000 hourly workers in the Charlotte region from $12.50 to $13.50, which is expected to cost Atrium nearly $11 million. The not-for-profit company’s annual revenue is around $10 billion, with an operating income around $250 million or more.

Since 2012, Atrium has raised its minimum wage by 86% — from $7.25 per hour to the new and current $13.50 per hour rate. According to a release, the company has additional plans to increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour in the Charlotte region in 2021, which will be more than double the original $7.25 per hour from 2012.

“This latest increase ensures that starting wages at Atrium Health are not only competitive among the top, large, local employers, but also healthcare industry-leading in the Charlotte region,” Jim Dunn, executive vice president and chief people and culture officer of Atrium Health, stated in the release.

Atrium is Mecklenburg County’s biggest employer, though the raise will not affect the thousands of contracted workers that work for Atrium, such as kitchen staff or security guards. However, a spokesperson did state that those wages are reviewed regularly.

CMPD Announces Plan for New De-Escalation Facility

Groundbreaking ceremony for CMPD’s new de-escalation training facility in south Charlotte. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

Representatives with the Charlotte City Council, CMPD, FBI and the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Foundation hosted a press conference deep in the woods behind the CMPD’s training academy in southwest Charlotte on Tuesday to announce the construction of a new de-escalation training facility on the academy grounds.

The new facility will be used to train public safety personnel such as the Crisis Intervention Teams implemented by CMPD last year. The facility, which will cost $2.4 million to build, will include a two-story, 3,400-square-foot building where trainees will be faced with de-escalation scenarios, as well as a 1,900-square-foot classroom that will seat up to 50 people.

After the press conference, CMPD Chief Kerr Putney emphasized that, in 2019, CMPD officers encountered more than 10,700 armed subjects, with all but six encounters ending peacefully. Those stats include times in which an officer came into contact with someone legally carrying a firearm and other times when there was no direct threat to public safety.

Mayor Pro Tem Julie Eiselt said the training facility will be used by federal agencies such as the FBI along with the CMPD, creating opportunities for collaboration. “It’s a big investment in de-escalation, which we know is what a 21st-century police department should be very competent in,” she said.

Construction is expected to be complete by June.

Big Storm Just Fucks Up a Whole Thursday

The National Weather Service (NWS) has confirmed that an EF-1 tornado touched down in south Charlotte on Thursday during a storm that hit the city just after noon and led to power outages, flooding and plenty of damage around Mecklenburg County.

Trish Palmer with the NWS held a press conference on Thursday and said that the tornado had maximum winds of 95 miles per hour and cut a path more than 17 miles long beginning in Pineville and ending in Matthews. Most of the damage found by NWS surveyors involved tree damage, according to Palmer, although there was structural damage found along the path, including roofs being blown off of warehouses on Industrial Drive in Pineville.

Palmer said her team was able to confirm the tornado thanks to the patterns of fallen trees, which will “splat out” in the case of a microburst, while in a tornado the trees criss-cross and sometimes fall backwards.

There was about a one-minute warning leading up to Thursday’s tornado, although a watch was in effect well before that. Palmer said NWS works with the Charlotte Mecklenburg Emergency Management Office to improve warning times.

“What we want people to do is always be prepared no matter what happens,” Palmer said. “Our typical severe weather season is maybe March to May, so this is a little bit early, but we were advertising this event days in advance … so we knew that something could happen, and we were keeping an eye on it. The potential for tornadoes combined with flooding can be a real concern.”

Uber Murder Among Homicides in Charlotte

Jacquez Moore

A 19-year-old man shot to death in the back of a car on Sunday afternoon was a passenger in a rideshare vehicle, according to police. CMPD stated that Jacquez Moore and a female passenger were in the back of an Uber stopped at a traffic light on Old Concord Road near W.T. Harris Boulevard when someone in a car next to them opened fire. Moore was struck multiple times, while the other passenger was hit in the hand. On Wednesday, detectives arrested 28-year-old Trevor Powell and charged him with Moore’s murder.

A 37-year-old man was fixing kitchen equipment in a restaurant in the Steele Creek area when he was shot and killed on Wednesday night, according to CMPD. A release from the department states that Juan Hernandez was working for a business that had been contracted out by management at La Poblanita Bar & Grill on Westinghouse Boulevard to perform maintenance on kitchen equipment when an unknown man walked into the business just after 9 p.m. and shot him. Hernandez was pronounced dead on the scene. No motives are yet known, and no arrests have been made.

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