Election could affect RDC, city spending

To the Editor,

The city primary this Tuesday (10/6) is for two commissioner seats! The primary will narrow the field down to just two for each seat for the November general election. All city citizens can vote for all seats.

There’s far more involved this time than usual and the certain outcomes could mean lots of city debt and higher taxes.

The big issue is the Redevelopment Commission (RDC), a group appointed over a year ago to develop the Spencers Property. To create the RDC, the city had to hold two public hearings and each had large audiences. Almost all spoke against the idea because an RDC would have much power and would not be answerable to citizens. An RDC even has the power to borrow money and to take private property by Eminent Domain.

The city board did approve an RDC but only by a 3-2 vote. As a compromise only Spencers was to be involved. Yet the RDC has sought to extend its control to include private properties. This means those properties would be part of the area classified as “blighted” (whether they are or not). This RDC control could be only pressing owners to make changes that could be expensive. In extreme cases it could conceivably involve condemnation and, in a worse case scenario, could be pushed to involve RDC acquiring property by Eminent Domain. The RDC has said they would not use that power but it is possible. RDC member terms are as short as one year so new members may have new opinions. There’s an old saying about “Never let a gov’t group have a power you don’t want them to use” and it is very true in this case. There’s also the clear possibility of huge taxpayer costs which is more likely than Eminent Domain. Those are the reasons so many citizens were (and still are) so concerned, and also the reasons the board restricted RDC to only the Spencers property.

The RDC has been working to create a plan for some time and unveiled their draft plan a couple weeks ago at their meeting. It is a grandiose one, involving the purchase of major additional property, creation of new streets, and even a traffic “round-about”. The potential costs of a plan this big could be astronomical yet it does nothing to Spencers itself. Some grant money would likely be available but a big chunk of city money would be needed as well. RDC supporters say this grandiose plan is needed to entice private developers for the Spencer property, but it would be gambling millions of city money on a high risk plan. RDC’s idea sounds like “if we build it they will come”, which has been tried and failed over and over. Examples include the Randy Parton Theater (In Roanoke Rapids) and the NASCAR Hall of Fame (in Charlotte). Both failed miserably and left taxpayers with millions of debt. Let’s have the RDC do something with the Spencers property FIRST, before we consider spending/borrowing big time city money.

This draft plan must be approved by the city board before it is official. The draft plan includes up to 14 private properties all the way to the river and across to Pine St. That’s far beyond what the city board said a year ago and they have again signaled 4-1 just last month that if that draft plan comes to the city board they will not approve it because it involves private property. Only Yokeley of our current board is for the larger RDC plan.

So it may seem all is well and only the Spencers property will be involved … . but that depends on changes that could come to the board this November; and that brings us back to the two commissioner seats mentioned at the start of this letter.

In the race involving Brown, Springthorpe, and Barnes, the only candidate supporting the larger RDC plan is Barnes. He has said so publicly.

In the race involving Armbrister, Clark, and Taylor the only candidate supporting the larger RDC plan is Taylor. He also has said so publicly.

Once the RDC was formed my thought has always been to have them develop a sensible plan for the Spencers property; one that has a good chance of success and doesn’t cost taxpayers a fortune. No such sensible plan has surfaced as yet. RDC has said they liked the idea of a hotel/convention center. That plan was from a consultant who admitted the project would need to have an average of 5.6 events per week year round to be successful. That is simply not possible. Many other suggestions are for things more often seen in college towns. Those would be great but those college towns have 10-20,000 students with spending money to keep those type businesses going. We don’t have those college crowds.

Let’s stick to common sense for the election and also for whatever is developed with Spencers.

John Pritchard

Mount Airy

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