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Q and A with John Lassiter

by Mark Peres

February 4,2005

You serve as Chair of the City's Economic Development Planning Committee. What development projects are you currently reviewing?

Our committee has been reviewing several projects, including the development plans for a new Wachovia tower across from the Convention Center that will include a 1200 seat theatre that may house the North Carolina Dance Theater as well as Charlotte campus of the Wake Forest University School of Business. This project is the first of several projects recommended in the Arts & Science Council’s Long Range Cultural Facilities Plan. We are also working on development alternatives for city-owned parcels of land adjacent to the new Arena. In the past several months, we have completed our review of the revitalization project for Midtown Square, the Epicenter project on the old convention center property and the Elizabeth Avenue redevelopment project. All three of these efforts will convert underdeveloped and abandoned land uses to center city retail, restaurants and entertainment venues.

How do you determine what private projects deserve public monies or tax subsidies?

In the past, private projects have requested public funding on an ad-hoc basis, often resulting in a lack of scrutiny and questionable support by many taxpayers. We have developed an evaluation tool called the “Sustainability Index” that measures how a particular project may meet a variety of community goals – revitalizing a corridor or creating housing alternatives – as well as evaluating the financial plan for the project. Before a project will be considered for public investment, it must have a high score on the Sustainability Index and be unable to develop “but for” some public investment. Our investments can include transportation, sidewalk or streetscape improvements or possibly the use of future taxes on the improved property to fund parking decks needed to support the retail, housing or commercial office uses in the project.

You serve on the Mayor's Task Force on the Arts. What core recommendation is the Task Force making about the future of the arts in the City?

The Task force met for several months this past summer and fall to consider the recommendations made in the ASC’s Long Range Cultural Facilities Plan. The group, composed of both representatives of the affiliated arts organizations and members of city council, unanimously agreed on several far reaching proposals. First, all of the projects deserve consideration for renovation, relocation or construction. These projects include a complete renovation of Discovery Place and the Afro-American Cultural Center, the relocation of the Mint Museum to a center city location and the construction of a 1200 seat theatre for the North Carolina Dance Theater and a home for the Bechtler modern art collection. Second, the city should focus its efforts and funding on facility construction and maintenance rather than operations. Because the city can leverage its investment through bonds on 12:1 ratio, operating subsidies should be transferred to capital construction and let the users and patrons of the cultural facilities focus on operating and program expenses. Third, co- location, joint use and consolidation of “back of house” expenses like ticketing, security and custodial can result in significant cost savings and allow the arts affiliates to focus on programming. City Council will devote time at its annual retreat in February to consider the complete recommendations of the Task Force.

You also serve on the working committee to bring the NASCAR Hall of Fame to Charlotte. What is underway for us to win the selection?

NASCAR has asked 4 cities: Charlotte, Atlanta, Daytona and Kansas City to respond to a Request for Proposal to build a Hall of Fame museum. Responses will be due in May of 2005. The mayor has appointed a working committee including Cathy Bessant of Bank of America and current Chair of the Charlotte Chamber, Luther Cochrane , Chair of the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority and Tim Newman, recently named President of the CVRA and formerly President of Center City Partners. The group will begin meeting in early February to develop a plan of action for Charlotte’s proposal. Clearly, this opportunity is a way to cement NASCAR’s connection to our community and link Lowes Motor Speedway, dozens of race teams based in the area and the automotive engineering programs at UNC-Charlotte. Charlotte recognizes the importance racing has for our regional economy and the health of our hospitality and tourism industry.

What is your vision of Charlotte in 5 years?

Charlotte has been and will continue to be the economic engine for the region and take on an increasing greater role in the economic health of both North and South Carolina. New businesses large and small will choose Charlotte for relocation and expansion. The center city will not only continue to produce new jobs but provide housing to several thousand more residents, provide a wider variety of entertainment options including more cultural options, more professional sports including both basketball and baseball and, for the first time in decades, have significant retail activity. All of these efforts will be tied to a transportation system that allows residents from booming suburban communities to travel to and through the center city by train, bus and automobile. Pedestrian friendly streetscapes and greenways will link residential, educational and commercial uses throughout the city. New educational institutions, like Johnson & Wales and Queens University Law School will combine with Johnson C. Smith University, UNC Charlotte and CPCC to train the creative and skilled workers our community will need to compete in the global economy.

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