BizWorthy: NoDa Land Redevelopment, Commute Times And A Potential Carowinds Sale

Oct 10, 2019

Big swaths of land have come up for redevelopment recently in neighborhoods close to uptown, like Plaza Midwood and South End. In this week’s BizWorthy, we hear about another prime spot — in NoDa — that has been home to a fourth-generation family business.

The Charlotte Ledger’s Tony Mecia joins WFAE "Morning Edition" host Lisa Worf with more on that and other business news..

Lisa Worf: What piece of land are we talking about here?

Tony Mecia: So, this is a seven-acre parcel of land, the Herrin Ice building. It's about two blocks from the Neighborhood Theatre on 36th Street right on the Light Rail line, pretty prime piece of real estate. There's a lot of prime pieces of real estate in NoDa, of course.

But this is a pretty big parcel, pretty close to the middle of NoDa, and Grubb Properties announced last week that it's under contract to buy it. Now, they're not saying exactly what it's going to become, but it's a pretty big piece of land, and I'm sure people in the neighborhood, their imaginations are running wild about what it might turn into.

Worf: Construction of the Light Rail has brought so much change to NoDa already. What else could be changing if this sale goes through?

Mecia: Yeah, I mean, I think you're really seen in a lot of these neighborhoods, you've seen not only older pieces of land get redeveloped, but you're seeing the migration of the neighborhood. In the case of NoDa, you're seeing a kind of move across those Light Rail tracks up towards the north a little bit down 36 Street. I mean, this is this really sort of expanding and potentially redeveloping areas that you don't even traditionally think of as parts of these neighborhoods that they just sort of expanded outward as prices go up.

Worf: And this land in NoDa falls in a Federal Opportunity Zone, designated high poverty, and you've reported on these before. So this means the developers may be getting some favorable tax treatment from this.

Mecia: Yeah, Grubb Properties, which is under contract for the land, has been pretty active in Opportunity Zones and taking advantage of these tax breaks that were put in as part of the 2017 Federal Tax Act. And so they're eligible for some of these breaks so they can postpone some of their taxes, pay a little bit less in taxes.

The idea is to help poor areas of town. Now, some people might look at NoDa and say, "Well, gosh there's plenty of development activity there already, why do we need to give additional tax breaks?" But this particular census tract has been designated as high poverty and certainly Grubb and some of the other developers are taking a pretty hard look at that.

Worf: Next up, you analyzed some census data this week that looks at commutes in Mecklenburg County and the big standout is people who don't commute at all for work. How common has this become?

Mecia: It's always been fairly common in Charlotte to have people who work from home. I think we might all know people in our neighborhoods who do sales, they're selling things we hardly know what they are, but they have a territory throughout the Southeast. Charlotte's always attracted people like that because it's pretty centrally located. It has a good airport hub. It has a couple of interstates, low cost of living relative to other cities. So it's always made a lot of sense.

But if you look at the census data, the number of people working from home in the last five years has gone up 60%. It's about 50,000 people or so say they work from home now. I mean, those numbers are going up pretty fast.

Worf: And how bad is the commute getting for those who are commuting?

Mecia: Well, it is getting worse. I mean, the median commute time is around 24 minutes. There is also a pretty good-sized increase in the number of people who say they're commuting 45 minutes or more. Those numbers are going up. You know, I think that's a product of the region is just growing. You know you think up to the north and the Huntersville-Davidson area.

You've got a lot of activity up there you have a lot down to the south side of the county, and into (U.S. Route) 521 and Lancaster County. You know, Gaston County. I mean you're seeing the region just grow and I think you know you can expect to see longer average commute times. Now at the same time you're having a lot of job creation in areas that are not just uptown. You're seeing it all around the region, and so I think if we can get some more jobs created closer to where people live that's certainly very helpful.

Worf: Now, Reuters reported this week that Carowind's parent company, Cedar Fair, was entertaining a buyout offer from Six Flags and they turned it down. What's going on there?

Mecia: Yeah, Reuters reported last week that Cedar Fair, which owns Carowinds and a number of other theme parks around the country, had been approached by Six Flags and they were talking about a merger. Now, at the time a lot of analysts thought, "This doesn't really make a whole lot of sense." Six Flags, their CEO is sort of a lame-duck CEO who's said he's leaving. They haven't hired a new CEO yet, and there are some other issues potentially with that kind of a deal.

I think it shows, I mean, if you talk to analysts and you talk to hard-core theme park fans, a lot of them really like Cedar Fair and they would like it to stay independent and not acquired by some rival company. They like the roller coasters. They think it's a well-run company, and to have it owned by Six Flags, I think, it sort of turned a lot of people off.

But I think what this indicates is that Cedar Fair, the owner of Carowinds, is a desirable company and you might see some other companies try to come in and try to propose some sort of a merger.

Worf: With a potential buyout, do I have to worry at all about roller coasters?

Mecia: Yeah, I mean one of the fears with Six Flags is that it might have spent so much money to acquire Cedar Fair that it wouldn't have any money to build new roller coasters. That's some pretty serious business if you don't have enough money to build new roller coasters at Carowinds, then you're in real trouble.