A familiar city consultant and Charlotte tourism executives asked City Council for a combined $7.6 million on Monday to help projects that would upgrade Bojangles’ Coliseum and Ovens Auditorium, buy an artificial playing field for Memorial Stadium and add a pedestrian bridge connecting uptown and South End over Interstate 277.
Council will vote on the funding requests on June 11 (the stadium field and pedestrian bridge) and June 25 (the Bojangles’-Ovens additions and related overruns).
Here’s what each request and project entails:
• Mecklenburg County this year approved spending $32 million of taxpayer money to overhaul its 82-year-old Memorial Stadium, located on the edge of uptown between Central Piedmont Community College and the Elizabeth neighborhood.
County leaders want the city to spend $3 million to buy an artificial turf field for the renovated stadium in time for its 2021 opening. Ron Kimble, a former city manager who is now a consultant on tourism and sports projects, touted what would be a $35 million upgrade as a winner for city taxpayers in particular since they would be paying only for the field. Two years ago, a proposed $25 million Memorial Stadium renovation would have cost the city $8.3 million, but the deal later fell apart.
In exchange for buying the field, the city would receive five rent-free days at the stadium annually for 15 years. Assistant County Manager Mark Foster told council the stadium’s rental fee is $12,000 a day, plus expenses. Kimble, citing economic analysis by the visitors authority, estimated direct spending of $1.7 million per event, or $8.5 million annually, based on hotels, meals and other expenses for Charlotte’s role as host of Battle of the Bands. Mayor Vi Lyles questioned whether the Battle of the Bands should be used as an average measuring stick, saying it could be difficult to match attendance and interest for that event across the board.
• In 2004, when the city was in the final stages of preparing to build what became the 10-mile light-rail line between Pineville and uptown, the project included a pedestrian bridge going over I-277 between uptown and South End, city transportation planning manager Dan Gallagher told council. Budget pressures caused the pedestrian bridge to be scrapped.
Now the city, with help from the county, state and private backers, wants to revive the pedestrian bridge. It would cost $11 million, including $3.1 million from city government. Mecklenburg County would kick in a matching $3.1 million, while the state transportation department would contribute $3.3 million. Private donations from companies and nonprofits account for the remaining $1.5 million.
According to the presentation, if council approves the funding, construction would begin in 2021.
• Council voted last summer to spend $18.5 million on a connecting building between Bojangles’ Coliseum and Ovens Auditorium, both city-owned venues, on Independence Boulevard.
The project is scheduled to open in the fall of 2019, with construction beginning this summer. Visitors authority CEO Tom Murray and members of his staff outlined the additions, including restrooms, concessions areas, pre-and post-event hospitality spaces and storage and office expansion. Construction costs will add $500,000 to the price tag, despite shrinking the addition to 35,000 square feet from 45,000 square feet to reduce expenses.
Another $1 million is being requested to build a performer’s corridor, something promoters have sought to make it easier for musicians and actors to move quickly and easily before and after shows. Council will decide in two weeks whether to approve the $1.5 million in additional spending, money that would come from existing tourism tax revenue.
Council members asked Murray how much additional business the improvements might bring and questioned whether adding loading docks to the buildings might be of greater value. According to the visitors authority, revenue for the two buildings doubled over the past several years, jump-started by the Charlotte Checkers minor league hockey team moving back to Bojangles’ and the city spending $16 million to renovate that arena.
In fiscal 2017, Bojangles’ hosted 89 events and Ovens had 106. The two buildings are moving closer to break-even on an annual operating basis, Murray told me Monday.
Earlier on Monday, council spent about 90 minutes debating changes to the fiscal 2019 budget. The discussion netted $250,000 more for a program aimed at allowing older residents to stay in their homes (“Aging in Place”) and moving some money around for enhanced police pay raises. Neither move made a significant change to the existing $2.6 billion budget recommended by the city manager, including a proposed one-cent property tax increase, council will vote on the final budget next week.