Published: Mar 20, 2012 06:34 PM
Modified: Mar 20, 2012 06:35 PM
MORRISVILLE - During the past few months, as the Morrisville Town Council started to debate capital improvement projects, the future of a proposed downtown seemed uncertain.
Some of the uncertainty was laid to rest March 13, when the Town Council reached a consensus to continue investigating use of a private-public partnership to develop a 22-acre “main street” with housing, offices, retail shops, library and amphitheater between Carolina and Jeremiah streets and Town Hall Drive.
Currently, Morrisville has no downtown or “main street.” The town has been talking of creating a downtown since the 1990s.
The current reincarnation of the plans would require leveraging 12 acres of town property on Jeremiah Street and Carolina Avenue and selling it to developers to build townhouses. The town would use the money from the sale to put in infrastructure such as roads to encourage development.
The town also plans to work with developers to have them build the downtown structures and sidewalks per the town’s ordinances.
While some on the council have been skeptical about the partnership, Planning Director Ben Hitchings pointed to Matthews as a place where such an effort has been successful.
The council plans to take a day trip to Matthews soon to speak with its staff and council about how they did it.
Councilman Mark Stohlman still has some concerns about how the economic downturn would affect a private-public partnership.
“The world has changed a great deal since those plans were developed,” Stohlman said. “This is not 2005. We are relying heavily on private-public, but right now the private (sector) isn’t doing ‘field of dreams’ type projects. They’ve gone bankrupt. We have to be realistic about where we are today.”
Stohlman questioned whether the project is still doable and whether it should be scaled back or delayed until conditions improve.
Hitchings is currently working on a Request for Qualifications, which would gauge the level of interest from developers and pinpoint any concerns. He has been in touch with other municipalities including Matthews to get perimeters and guidance for developing the RFQ. It should be ready in the next few months, Hitchings said.
Councilman Michael Schlink questioned whether there was enough public support for the downtown. A recent citizen panel survey showed few residents supported building the amphitheater or other government buildings and wanted the town to focus on roads and parks.
Schlink said he supports letting a downtown spring up naturally around existing corridors like N.C. 54.
“I’m of the belief you build the road they will come,” Schlink said. “I look at other things like incentives. What kind of development couldn’t go anywhere else in town?”
Councilwoman Liz Johnson said that while the 83 survey respondents didn’t show support for town center projects, the numerous public meetings held by the council when the plan was developed proved residents’ interest.
“I have never seen such public input in the 12 years I’ve been an elected official,” Johnson said. “They really wanted a town center, and they were looking forward to it.”
Councilwoman Margaret Broadwell remembered why the council started investigating building a downtown.
“What generated it was people feeling the need to have an identity,” Broadwell said. “That’s the real driving force here other than economic development. It’s all about people feeling a part of their community.”