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Q and A with Jim Palermo

by Mark Peres

March 4,2005

You have been active for many years in helping develop the Center City. Why is a vibrant Center City important?

Cities need a center as a wheel must have a hub. We know the spokes are joined together by the hub. Roads, rail lines, and bike paths need a place to start and end. Cities without a solid core become dysfunctional: transportation grids and well-thought out land plans become difficult and uncontrolled sprawl pulls hard on the vibrancy of the central region. Charlotte has a core. Well-thought out road grids, and soon rail lines, will feed that core. Continued investment from both the private sector and public arena will cause tax revenue from the Center City to increase. At the same time, the infrastructure investment stays constant. Most often overlooked is that the Charlotte core is an "exporter" of tax revenue. Government data suggests that 4 out of every 5 tax dollars produced in the Center City is used outside the core. In other words, it makes good business sense to protect that vibrancy as it is currently supporting must of what is going on in the rest of the city.

Where is the Center City now within Charlotte’s historical context?

The Center City is riding a crest. However, we all know that it has not always been the case. Going back in history, we have seen the center of Charlotte go up and down several times. The advent of the trolley and the subsequent growth of suburban shopping altered the core’s stability. But at this point in time, we are absolutely in the right place.

What are the most critical elements of the Center City that you believe citizens must support?

Three areas as I see it: First, we must keep our neighborhoods safe. Today we are the safest precinct in the city. However, police understaffing can threaten that record. Second, we need to push government to be sensitive to the changing environment. Transportation experts who want to only move cars from point A to point B will likely run over our kids in the process. They didn't have to worry about pedestrians when the Center City was empty, but it’s different now. Third, let's not make foolish economic moves. What has worked should be protected. Taking success for granted will bring on the reoccurrence of a down cycle that will hurt everyone.

What current threats do you see to the continued growth of the Center City?

The idea of taxing downtown parking or doubling the municipal services tax (which is a property tax paid by Uptown residents as well as businesses) will rip the economic insides out of the Center City. I support additional cultural venues in our community, but I disagree that they should be paid for by one neighborhood when they benefit everyone. Also, the process of coming up with what should be included in the arts package and how it should be paid for was flawed. Today, the package contains a wish list. It seems like everyone just piled on. We need to make sure that groups studying the arts and taxes are representative. Leaders and citizens of the Center City need to be part of those discussions.

What interests you most about the future of Charlotte?

The future looks bright. Every week another high-rise condo project is announced and it is soon sold out. The arrival of Johnson & Wales and the thought of 4000 students feeding our economy is exciting. Center City Charlotte is positioned to become one of the most desirable neighborhoods in the city. That future will be strengthened by good leadership. With Hugh McColl retired, others will need to help fill the void. While we are treading water with leadership today, a little shot in the arm will get us swimming again.

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