Charlotte OKs purchase of properties on Independence

Charlotte OKs purchase of properties on Independence

Charlotte OKs purchase of properties on Independence

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by STEVE HARRISON / Charlotte Observer

WCNC.com

Posted on November 29, 2012 at 8:24 AM

Updated Thursday, Nov 29 at 8:25 AM

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The city of Charlotte’s decision this week to buy two hotels and an empty IHOP restaurant along Independence Boulevard was cheered by nearby residents, and marked a more aggressive stance in fighting blight.

The city and Mecklenburg County will spend $2.26 million to buy the two pieces of land across from Bojangles’ Coliseum. One contains the Charlotte Inn Hotel, which is still in business, and the other contains a closed Comfort Inn and restaurant.

The plan is to raze the buildings and turn the land into a park.

“We are doing a happy dance,” said Allison Billings, a member of the Commonwealth Park Neighborhood Association, which is just north of the properties. “(The hotel) was definitely a crime problem.”

The purchase is the latest effort by the city to try and improve east Charlotte – an area in flux due to the widening of Independence Boulevard and a loss of businesses.

Three years ago, the city spent $45,000 to help demolish an empty Upton’s big box store off of Albemarle Road.

The biggest effort was made earlier this summer, when the City Council voted unanimously to buy the remains of Eastland Mall for $13 million. The city wants to partner with a developer to demolish the mall and develop movie studios on part of the 81 acres it now owns.

The city will seek proposals from developers in early 2013.

The city bought the two hotels and restaurant along Independence primarily because one of the buildings is a crime problem, said Brad Richardson, the city’s economic development director. The buildings also are in a flood plain, he said.

There are dozens of other closed stores and restaurants in the area, but Richardson said the city has no plans to buy any other buildings.

In City Manager Curt Walton’s $926 million capital plan – which hasn’t been approved by City Council – $20 million is set aside for “public-private partnerships” for the area. That money could be used to help redevelop Bojangles’ Coliseum into an amateur sports complex, or it could be used to purchase empty buildings, Richardson said.

It’s unclear if the capital plan will pass in 2013 as council members try to reach a compromise on how to pay for a streetcar extension.

This summer, six council members passed a compromise budget that eliminated the streetcar as well as the $20 million set aside for public-private partnerships. Mayor Anthony Foxx vetoed that budget, saying it didn’t do enough for the city.

Council member John Autry, who represents much of east Charlotte, said he’s pleased with the city’s efforts to combat blight.

“Should we be more aggressive? I’m happy with the progress we are making,” Autry said. “But certainly my district could use more help.”

The N.C. Department of Transportation will begin work next year on converting Independence Boulevard into an expressway from Albemarle Road to Conference Drive. Autry said that project could hurt businesses along the route, prompting the need for more city help.

In the recent purchase, Richardson said the city expects to close on the two pieces of land at the end of the year or early in 2013. Two or three months after that, the city will demolish the buildings, which will cost a little more than $1 million.

Mecklenburg County Commissioners initially balked at buying the properties and voted it down in closed session in September. But the city lowered the purchase price of the Charlotte Inn from $1.9 million to $1.46 million. Commissioners approved the deal last week in a 8-0 vote.

The City Council approved the purchases in a 10-1 vote. Democrat LaWana Mayfield, who represents west and southwest Charlotte, voted no.

Mayfield couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday.

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