What's In It For Them? | News Feature | Creative Loafing Charlotte

News & Views » News Feature

What's In It For Them?

Council dullards reject whitewater goldmine

This time, they've really gone and lost it. Charlotte's leaders aren't just riding in the caboose of a train with no driver. It's worse than that. The train has wrecked and no one has bothered to send them a memo. This is that memo. It started last week when the city drop-kicked a $2 million-dollar request for a 307-acre US National Whitewater Center to be located in west Charlotte along the Catawba River, a facility slated to serve as an official US Olympic training ground when it's completed. It would be the only multi-channel re-circulating whitewater park in the world and would be an economic boon to the city. An economic development study recently forecast that the facility's whitewater and flat-water boating channels, mountain biking, running and hiking trails, outdoor climbing facilities and conference center would pump $37 million a year into the local economy -- and attract 310,000 users annually from around the world. On top of that, the possibility of the facility being here is the main reason USA Canoe and Kayak decided to locate its headquarters in the area.

The local non-profit group pushing for the park isn't asking for a dime, just for the city to co-sign up to $2 million of the $21.5 million loan it needs to build the park. That's it. Oh yeah -- and the group plans to donate 4.5 percent of the revenue generated by the park to the city.

So what use could the city possibly have for the $2 million that would be more important for Charlotte's future than this? What could rate as a higher priority or a better investment? Well, there's the $3 million city leaders are giving to Time Warner Cable, a $56 billion company, as a sort of pat on the back for locating 400 jobs here, a move the company planned to make anyway before the city council voted to cut the company a check. Or there's the $13 million the council forked over for additional land around the future uptown arena so the city manager's office could micro-manage development around the arena -- the very development the arena was supposed to generate by itself. (What valuable input these bureaucrats could offer real developers who have actual private sector development experience remains a mystery.)

The real problem here is that, with the exception of Pat Mumford, the one council member I know of who gets it, a whitewater park in West Charlotte has nothing to offer our city leaders personally, so what it has to offer Charlotte is largely irrelevant to most of them. From their point of view, the park would compete with their precious arena and stands a fair chance of eventually blowing by a new NBA team in the number of visitors it attracts. Worse yet, the park wasn't their idea, which means they can't take credit for it, so it's politically useless. And if they won't get to control its day-to-day operations, it won't increase their personal civic power base, so what's the point?

This, folks, is the mentality these days at city hall. And it's the mentality that those pushing for the park and anything else that truly benefits the city are fighting. It's the sort of mentality Mayor McCrory demonstrated when he couldn't find a measly 15 minutes to meet with USA Canoe and Kayak representatives when they were considering Charlotte as a location for their headquarters. Why? Because McCrory was too tied up in arena and NBA meetings that day. This is the mentality, and the kind of cluelessness, that is holding Charlotte back.

So if the situation described above didn't invoke outrage at Monday's council meeting, what did? The fact that the architectural designs presented to city council for the new arena didn't have an "historical feeling" reminiscent of the 1930s mill look that's so in vogue right now.

"It doesn't look like the warehouse-look we talked about," McCrory huffed at the architect. Of course, the irony of the city tearing down two gorgeous 1900s-era buildings that meet national standards for historic designation to make way for 16-foot sidewalks around the 1980s-era architectural monstrosity that is the arena is seemingly beyond McCrory.

Don't misunderstand. Over the years, long-term council members, including McCrory, have been passionate about preserving the handful of historic buildings left downtown and elsewhere in Charlotte -- when they were using zoning rules or other means to force someone else to pay for it. I haven't heard much of that lately from the council. Nor have I seen anything that would qualify as an enthusiastic effort to save the very sort of buildings they've bashed others for ripping down.

These days, if you're a billionaire in need and you provide a service only elite Charlotte taxpayers can afford, all you've got to do is drive your limo through the roundabout in front of the Government Center, and city leaders will load cash into your car in the hope that you'll help them accomplish goals they have a hard time articulating in public.

Exactly what these goals are, I couldn't tell you. But I do know a train wreck when I see one.

Add a comment