By Tim Reaves, Independent Tribune
KANNAPOLIS, N.C. — City officials say they will spend the next few months studying the city’s downtown area for buildings they may want to buy after David Murdock told them he is willing to sell some of the properties.
The city announced Wednesday that they approached Murdock’s company, Castle & Cook, about buying properties, and Murdock is interested. Castle & Cook has owned much of downtown Kannapolis since Murdock bought Cannon Mills in 1982.
Council members discussed the idea with Murdock about a month ago, City Manager Mike Legg said. They also have taken up the topic while meeting in closed session.
Downtown is a “high priority” for the city council, which has been exploring development in the city’s core for some time.
Over the next several months, city staff will examine the properties from West 1st Street to Vance Avenue and adjacent properties, he said. After following through with its due diligence requirements, the city will consider purchasing an unknown number of downtown buildings.
The process is in its early stages, so city leaders don’t yet have answers to what specific buildings they’re interested in or what the cost may be.
“We just won’t know a lot more until we get this data completed,” Legg said.
Mayor Darrell Hinnant said he is “excited” about the prospect.
“We’re glad that Mr. Murdock is open to the idea,” he said. “We see ourselves as a partner, whereas in the past you have heard us say ‘one ownership.’”
Legg said Murdock’s focus has been on the North Carolina Research Campus (NCRC), the science and technology hub he developed on the site of the former Cannon Mills.
Downtown revitalization is the city’s main focus, but the two depend on the other, he said.
“It’s just our biggest investment as a city, without question,” he added. And downtown is a big part of that.”
Councilman Darrell Jackson, who owns Lee Clothing Warehouse on West Avenue, said he too is excited about the city buying properties downtown, because it would boost foot traffic and spur further development.
“My vision for downtown is a walkable situation with restaurants, culture and art,” he said. “That’s the reason I’ve stayed here in town.”
But it’s hard to sell people on city growth with a dead-looking downtown, he said.
“They want to see action,” he said. “They want us to get busy.”
“Ultimately there has to be a game-changer,” Legg said, and the potential sale of downtown properties could be just that.
NCRC is the Kannapolis’ greatest asset, but the city has been exploring a number of economic development options that could revitalize the downtown core and create an environment that would support the campus its partner organizations, according to a statement by the city released Wednesday.
Other key assets in the city include the Kannapolis Intimidators, Village Park, the N.C. Music Hall of Fame, the Dale Earnhardt Tribute, the train station, the Gem Theatre, Veterans Park and the new city hall, according to the statement. The new Rowan Cabarrus Cosmetology School will also be a significant asset.
The “game-changer” Legg referred to could be a downtown apartment complex, moving the Intimidators to a new downtown baseball/sports complex, a museum or family attraction venue and educational facilities like the cosmetology school.
City ownership of downtown properties would make it easier for Kannapolis to actualize its vision, Legg said.
“It is a certain level of influence and control,” he said. “That’s certainly a piece of it.”
There are unknowns though, he noted. Some of the downtown buildings will require remediation.
“We need to understand generally what the structural conditions are,” he said.
And the price will have to be right for the city to make any purchases.
“For the next few months the discussion should be framed around the philosophical question ‘should we do this?’” Legg said.
“I can’t completely say it’s the right move until we do our due diligence,” Jackson said. “It’s a business decision at that point.”
Still he’s hopeful Murdock’s willingness to sell the properties will benefit everyone.
“The citizens of Kannapolis have an investment in downtown just like he does,” Jackson said. “And I think he’s just showing good will.”