City says Discovery Place could sell land to pay for renovation
The city of Charlotte’s economic development director has proposed a new way to pay for long-planned renovations to Discovery Place uptown. During a meeting with city council members this week, Tracy Dodson, suggested the science museum sell a block of land it owns nearby to pay for the project. For more, "Morning Edition" host Marshall Terry talks to Tony Mecia of the Charlotte Ledger Business Newsletter for our segment Biz Worthy.
Terry: Tony, what block are we talking about here?
Mecia: This is a block of land behind the main entrance to Discovery Place. It's between Sixth and Seventh streets and poplar and Church streets. Right now it contains the parking deck for Discovery Place, as well as a building that Discovery Place uses for science education. That used to be Bank of America's daycare center.
Terry: So why is the city's economic development director making this suggestion? And also why now?
Mecia: Well, Marshall, this was a discussion in front of the City Council that all came in the context of how the city pays for various projects and how it uses tourism tax money. You might know that the city has reached a tentative deal with the Charlotte Hornets to renovate the Spectrum Center at a cost of about $215 million that would come from tourism tax revenue. In addition, the city is saying it wants to put in an additional $60 million to help the Hornets build a training facility at the bus station across the street. That money would come from naming rights.
But the question is, since the funds are limited, how do they also do other things like help the Discovery Place renovate its science museum uptown? I mean, traditionally, Discovery Place, which is a nonprofit, has had an agreement with the city in which the city funds a lot of that type of capital work. And so it came up in a discussion of how does the city pay for all of these things? And if it's depleting its money on tourism taxes for a spectrum center, how does it then also pay for this project at Discovery Place? And so the suggestion was, well, actually, they have this back city block that they could sell or sell development rights to that could help pay for some of that. So Tracey Dodson said, well, it's not an either or. There are other options on getting Discovery Place what it needs and that's one of them is selling the development rights.
Terry: And what does the Discovery Place think about this proposal?
Mecia: Well, I asked about that. Discovery Place says that it supports the plan to fund the Hornets and that they are continuing to work with the city and county government and civic leaders to get their needs addressed.
Terry: All right. Well, Tony, well, let's move on to another topic. You recently looked into the possibility that North Carolina state lawmakers could soon legalize sports betting. Right now, it's only legal in two casinos in the western part of the state. Why are lawmakers looking at making this possible change now?
Mecia: Yeah, this is an issue that's been brewing in the General Assembly for at least the last year or so. It's thought now that legislators might have the votes to pass it in this short session, which is going on for another few weeks. The reason is that so many surrounding states have legalized online sports gambling, including Tennessee, West Virginia and Virginia. And so it's this continued argument that you see that North Carolina is losing out on that revenue, also that it's that there's a lot of illegal sports gambling going on and that to bring it into the light of the day, helping regulate it, the state could make some money off of it.
Terry: So if this were to happen now, how would it work? Exactly? How would I go about, say, if I wanted to place a bet on the Panthers or something like that?
Mecia: So about 80 to 90% of sports gambling takes place online. We might have all seen the commercials — DraftKings, Fan Duel, so on their number of platforms. So that would be where a lot of it would be. But the legislation, according to a reporter that I talked with who covers this for a national sports outlet called Sports Handle, he said that, you know, the bill would also allow venues that have sports to offer in-person lounges. So places like Bank of America Stadium, where the Panthers play at Spectrum Center, where the Hornets play, and even the Quail Hollow Club, where we have the traditionally the Wells Fargo Championship. So if you wanted to bet on the Panthers Marshall, you could do it online on your phone from your couch, or you could do it at one of these in-person venues. Whether you want to bet in favor of the Panthers or for the Panthers to lose, that's, of course, your decision.
Terry OK. Well, we won't get into that right now. Well, let's move on to some development news or rather stalled development news. Work stopped on a hotel on Stonewall Street in uptown Charlotte for nearly three years, and questions remained as to why that is. You look into it. What did you find?
Mecia: Yeah, it was a little bit of a mystery uptown. You know, you had the stalled hotel project partially built. Nobody really knew why, this is before COVID, when maybe it would have made sense to halt hotel projects. It turns out that one of the founders of the project, a company called Sophira Capital, which was planning to help fund the construction of an even hotel on Stonewall Street near I-77, that Sophira had been in negotiations with the Justice Department to settle allegations that it had laundered drug money through a scheme known as the Black Market Peso Exchange. And so they encountered some legal trouble. At the same time, the hotel project stopped. It's since been revived. The project's been sold to Midas Hospitality, which is building an elegant hotel on the site.
Terry: Finally, Tony, in the Ledger's latest you ask, we answer column. A reader asked you to find out why there are a bunch of white pipes sticking out of the ground in an area near Ballantyne. So what's the answer?
Mecia: Well, we try to answer these questions from readers. Some are straightforward. Some are a little odd. This was maybe in the second category. You had all these white pipes sticking up on North Community House Road near I-485. A reader wanted to know, why is that? We dug into it and found out. It turns out it's utility marking. So it's indicating where there are utilities. This is right near that big Ballantyne reimagined project. And so the thinking is that utilities have designated those sites where there's going to be some future construction, some future road widening. So another mystery solved on that one, Marshall.
Terry: So it's not some sort of modern art installation.
Mecia: That's a good thought. Certainly could be that maybe they could maybe they can sell it like that. That would be a good idea.