Build it and they will come, the uptown crowd is promising Iredell County commissioners. “They” being the unnamed developers who are somehow miraculously going to get the financing for development along a commuter rail line to Iredell the uptowners want to build.
Iredell county commissioners meanwhile want to know who the heck these developers are and where they will come from. It’s an important question, because much of the funding for the line is supposed to come from taxes on this expected development.
The Iredell County Commission could kill the entire $452 million light rail project to Charlotte with a vote tonight, leaving six other governments along the line out of luck — and protected from the same kind of blight the South Boulevard line has wrought along much of South Boulevard, blight I’ve argued has actually done more damage than good to the area and its businesses.
Much to the outrage of the Charlotte Observer and all the right politicians, the Iredell county commissioners are asking difficult questions about building a light rail line to their county for which the former have no answers. Asking legitimate logistical questions is frowned upon by the uptown crowd, and thus the commissioners are feeling the full blast of the uptown crowd’s public disapproval.
But the questions still have no answers.
The Red Line Regional Rail project would upgrade 25 miles of Norfolk Southern rail line from a mile south of the Lowe’s headquarters in Mount Mourne to the planned Charlotte Gateway Station uptown. The line could eventually extend north to Interstate 40 in Statesville. Supporters say the line would spur development along the busy Interstate 77 corridor in the Lake Norman area and southern Iredell County.
Uh, how? Development of what by which developers? Development largely froze along the South Boulevard line and hasn’t resumed since the recession started.
Iredell County Commissioners Chairman Steve Johnson wants to know.
Red Line Regional Rail officials say the corridor could create 23,000 jobs over the life of the project, but Johnson questions who the potential developers and freight customers are for the line. Attracting development would require incentives, so any economic returns for the towns and counties would take years, he said.
Outside of a couple stations along the rail line along the first few stops as you leave uptown, the vast majority of the stops along the existing line have never been developed. Worse yet, rail construction chased off existing struggling businesses, leaving behind a corridor of blight and empty buildings worse than what Charlotte started with.
Even with incentives and $2 million in tax dollars thrown in, the city has been unable to develop rail stations as close in as Scaleybark on South Boulevard. How the heck is anyone going to get developers to sink money into an Iredell line that far outside the center city if we can’t even get Scaleybark going?
Commissioner Renee Griffith wants answers she is never going to get.
“There are a lot of unknowns,” she said. “Where are the customers? In the business model, they’re saying all these customers will come. Where are the commercial customers who will use this line? Why aren’t we partnering with them? Why aren’t we doing a private-public partnership? I would absolutely entertain listening, if all the concerns were addressed and there was a sustainable business model.”
People at least ride the existing line — for now. But that line was built to support bank jobs and jobs that bank jobs support uptown. All of that is now in question as Bank of America struggles for survival so … why not shelve the whole thing for at least a decade and see where we are then? Has development resumed? Are developers coming forward with hopes of building along the rail line?
Iredell commissioners would do the whole region a favor by pulling this monstrosity off the table tonight. Bet they don’t have the courage to do it.