Mount Airy’s efforts to redevelop the former Spencer’s industrial property have received a major boost with the awarding of a $722,500 grant for the project by the Golden Leaf Foundation.
“It is great news for the city,” Mount Airy Community Development Director Martin Collins said Tuesday regarding the tobacco-settlement funding targeted for infrastructure needs at the Spencer’s site to aid new uses there, including a hotel/banquet center and upscale apartments.
“It will be a huge help,” Mayor David Rowe said Tuesday of the money from the Golden Leaf Foundation. It is part of an estimated $4.6 billion that North Carolina received as a result of court cases against big cigarette companies in compensation for health and other problems caused by tobacco.
The grant will be used to improve water and sewer lines needed to support the redevelopment of the now-municipal-owned Spencer’s site, which also will have the capacity to serve other nearby properties. “It will all be part of the public system,” Collins said.
Mount Airy officials voted to buy the property in 2014 and it is now eyed for $28.5 million in private investment and the creation of 100 permanent jobs as a result of the redevelopment project, for which historic mill tax credits will be sought.
In addition to plans for the hotel/banquet center and apartments, a start-up textile company and space for artisans and crafters to produce items are sought for another section of the Spencer’s property, formerly used for infant-apparel manufacturing.
The city government also has spent money on pre-development activities there, and it has been estimated that it will inject $4.5 million to $5 million over the long haul for infrastructure needs involving streets along with water and sewer facilities.
“It’s grant money and it’s not funds that have to come from the city taxpayers,” Collins said of the municipal investment in the redevelopment and the role Golden Leaf will play. “So it will be very helpful in that regard.”
“To get this grant will help the taxpayers a little bit,” the mayor agreed concerning the underwriting of expenses for necessary utility improvements.
“I don’t know that it will help us in getting it done any quicker,” he added of the redevelopment project, “but it will offset some of the costs we were expecting to pay.”
The Golden Leaf Foundation grant requires a 20-percent match from the city toward the total cost of the water and sewer project. If that is $904,000, the match would be $181,000, according to an example provided by Collins.
“I don’t think we could complain too much about that,” Rowe said of the match requirement.
“The city won’t have any trouble contributing at least 20 percent of the project costs,” Collins said.
The Mount Airy Board of Commissioners will consider a resolution to officially accept the grant during a meeting Thursday at 2 p.m.
Rowe said Tuesday that it is hard to pinpoint how much the city’s expense toward the redevelopment ultimately will be, due to multiple variables involved — but “the grant will enable us to save a little money.”
“Very competitive process”
Collins said the effort leading to the successful grant application began last year, and also involved Parks and Recreation Director Catrina Alexander, City Engineer Mitch Williams, Public Works Director Jeff Boyles and Pam Stone, finance director.
“We kind of teamed up on it,” Collins said.
“The city had to make it through a vetting process,” he said of the procedure required by the Golden Leaf Foundation, a non-profit entity established in 1999 to help transform North Carolina’s economy using the tobacco-settlement money.
That funding is especially geared toward tobacco-dependent, economically distressed and/or rural communities, with eligible projects typically aimed at helping such areas rebound.
Collins explained that the process included evaluations of Mount Airy’s proposal on the county and regional levels, leading to a full application being submitted after the first of this year.
“And this was a very competitive process,” he added of being tapped for the grant from among a legion of applications.
“Only about 50 percent of the projects were funded,” Collins said, with the city’s proposal one of the few infrastructure projects awarded.
A formal letter was received toward the end of April informing that Mount Airy’s grant application was successful.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.