Despite a Charlotte-Mecklenburg Planning Committee recommendation against building a K-8 school at the former Eastland Mall, the Charlotte City Council gave a nod to its staff’s plans to continue negotiating a land sale with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. The council also voted Monday to adopt a prequalification policy for bidders on construction and repair projects.
Council members heard from the city staff at a pre-dinner meeting Monday about their vision for transforming the 80-acre site into a transit-oriented, mixed-use hub with parks. The magnet school, the first phase of the redevelopment process, would be on 12 acres at the northeast corner of the property near Wilora Lake Road.
The planning committee voted 6-1 last week to recommend the city not sell the land to CMS, citing concerns about whether a school is the proper venue to attract further economic development and whether the property could accommodate portable classrooms, should the need arise.
The City Council will hear more about the committee’s objections before voting on the land sale in late November. The city staff filed a rezoning petition for the property Monday. The City Council will hold a public hearing on that request early next year.
Patrick Mumford, director of the city’s Neighborhood and Business Services Department, told the council that there is “angst in the community about what is going to happen next” to the vacant property.
The city paid $13.2 million for the deserted mall in east Charlotte several years ago with the intention of revitalizing the economically depressed area through a sale to the private sector.
Along with the school, current plans call for 22 acres parks encircling 26 acres of retail, office and multifamily along the southern edge of the property at Central Avenue. An important part of the project, said Interim Planning Director Ed McKinney, is the 20 acres of streets and blocks connecting the development both internally and to adjacent neighborhoods. The project would include environmentally friendly features, such as a large pond to collect storm water.
Future investment in transit would be a big part of the project, McKinney said, with Gold Line tracks making a loop along the southern edge of the property before returning uptown. But Phase Two of the Gold Line project, which would extend the east side of the streetcar tracks one-half mile to Sunnyside Avenue, would terminate several miles from the Eastland Mall site. That project, according to the Charlotte Area Transit System, will not be completed until late 2019.
“These are high-level aspirations we are trying to achieve,” McKinney told council members, adding, “This is an opportunity to create a model, a national model, of sustainable design.”
Mayor Dan Clodfelter said transit access would be a major driver of development at the site, and that more details were needed on when and where the Gold Line extension would be built.
Republican Councilmember Ed Driggs of District 7 asked Mumford if there was a “possibility of just selling the land?” to which Mumford replied that previous attempts had failed. Last year, plans for a $300 million project fell through after the city couldn’t come to an agreement with Studio Charlotte Development on its plans for a movie studio, film school, hotel and apartments. The only other proposal was from Ark Ventures, which withdrew its plans in 2013 for a $154 million entertainment and recreation complex.
Driggs pressed on, asking if a deal with CMS would mean “a commitment on our part” for additional taxpayer expenditure on the site. “How much would we have to invest?” he asked Mumford, who replied that revenue from the sale could be funneled back into the site “to make it more attractive to development.” Driggs said a lot of private developers would be able to make money on the project, and that the city needed to recoup that.
Along with finalizing a sale agreement with CMS, the city will continue to work with Mecklenburg County Park & Recreation to design the park and to assess site development needs to lure private investment.
Later in the evening at its business meeting, the council unanimously approved the adoption of procedural requirements to prequalify bidders on construction and repair contracts with the city. The policy requires transparency to all bidders, project-specific criteria for gaining prequalification, a uniform application process, and a method for appealing denials.
The City Council adopted the guideline after a 2014 state law established rules for when and how a city may prequalify bidders. Previously, municipalities had more discretion because the statute stated only that “Bidders may be prequalified for any construction contract.”
Under the amended law, prequalification is defined as “a process of evaluating and determining whether potential bidders have the skill, judgment, integrity, sufficient financial resources, and ability necessary to the faithful performance of a contract for construction or repair work.”
Prequalification is not mandatory for particular projects, and the city uses them infrequently. However, the city staff said that having such a policy in place would benefit projects tied to state and federal funding that have aggressive completion dates.
In addition, timely adoption of the policy is critical for upcoming projects, including upgrades at Time Warner Cable Arena and Charlotte Douglas International Airport. The city says that’s because those projects’ first-tier subcontractors are subject to the amended prequalification policy.
Prequalification is disallowed for contracts covering architectural, engineering, surveying and design-build services.