Council OKs $1.25M more for NoDa mills housing

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by STEVE HARRISON / The Charlotte Observer

WCNC.com

Posted on October 8, 2012 at 10:13 PM

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Two weeks after indicating it was wary of spending more money to renovate the old Mecklenburg and Johnston mills, the Charlotte City Council voted Monday night to spend an additional $1.25 million to convert the historic NoDa buildings into workforce housing.

The council’s vote was hailed by NoDa residents, who carried signs saying YIMBY! – a reference to them wanting affordable housing in their backyards instead of opposing it.

Swayed by those residents – and by a desire to save the city’s past – council members voted 9-2 for the subsidy. Republican Andy Dulin and Democrat LaWana Mayfield voted no.

The money will go to a Washington D.C.-based developer, The Community Builders, who bought the 100-year-old buildings from the city last April for $1.24 million. But as the renovations began, the developer said it realized the mills were in much worse condition than anticipated.

Two weeks ago, The Community Builders asked the city for $2.35 million – a request that most council members indicated they would vote against. On Monday night, the developer pared down his request.

The Community Builders said it would spend roughly $2.4 million of its own money on the project, and said it received positive feedback from the Foundation For the Carolinas about also helping financially.

Mayor Anthony Foxx, a Democrat, asked council members for more time two weeks ago instead of voting against the $2.35 million request. He urged council members to vote yes Monday, saying the city should protect more of its oldest buildings.

“We aren’t very progressive in that way,” said Foxx.

He later added: “We have a neighborhood that wants affordable housing. This will be a transformative investment.”

Democrat Claire Fallon, who was very critical of giving the developer more money two weeks ago, was supportive Monday.

“We were a mill town before we were a bank town,” Fallon said.

Hollis Nixon, president of the NoDa neighborhood association, said the money would be well spent.

“The bottom line is historic preservation is expensive,” she said.

Nixon added that she and her neighbors want the workforce housing.

“NoDa is saying ‘Yes, we want it in our backyard,’ ” Nixon said. “This is our Eastland Mall.”

Nixon was referring to the city’s decision earlier this year to buy the remains of Eastland for $13.2 million with the hope of converting the empty mall into movie studios.

In lobbying for the mills money, Foxx said it would help the city improve its older neighborhoods. That has been one of the mayor’s themes as he works to pass a capital plan through 2020, which would likely cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

The $1.25 million for the mills will come from the city’s portion of a federal grant program for low-income housing. The project will create 64 apartments for people earning roughly 70 percent of the area’s median income.

City staff members also said the project is valuable because it’s next to a planned light-rail station at 36th Street. The Charlotte Area Transit System is hoping to open a 9.4-mile Lynx Blue Line extension by 2017, which would pass by NoDa en route to UNC-Charlotte.

“The historic mills can serve as a springboard for growth,” said Joe Khulmann, owner of The Evening Muse in NoDa.

The city has already spent nearly $7 million to try and refurbish the buildings. In the last decade, two other efforts to rehab the buildings – with different developers – have failed.

When the city sold them to The Community Builders last year, most council members thought they would be done with mills.

Mayfield said she voted no because, with the additional subsidy, the “city is buying back its initial investment.”

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