By DAVID BORAKS
and JOE MARUSAK
A 173-acre site off N.C. 73 east of Davidson is being considered for a proposed corporate park. The town, Duke Energy and economic development experts have been working together on the proposal, which would replace the stalled Davidson East residential and commercial project approved several years ago.
The project is still just a concept, and faces a variety of hurdles before it can happen. But if it’s successful, it would achieve a major goal that town leaders have been pursuing for the past several years: swapping new residential rooftops for commercial development and jobs. The town’s tax base right now is more than 80 percent residential, and town officials are looking for ways to rebalance it by recruiting more commercial development.
The site is owned by developer Frank Jacobus, whose Davidson East master plan was approved several years ago. That plan calls for a mixed-use development of 483 homes, townhomes, and apartments as well as more than 400,000 square feet of office and retail space. But the sour economy has stalled that project, along with many other residential-focused projects in town.
Duke Energy paid for a study of the site through its “Site Readiness Program,” which seeks to “identify, improve and increase awareness of industrial sites in the region that are best suited for new manufacturing facilities in Duke Energy’s targeted growth segments,” according to a presentation given to local officials last week.
“We certainly feel it’s a better use of the land and better for the community to create a corporate campus there,” Mayor John Woods said Monday. “It’s a lighter use of the property and it’s an employment campus.”
Mr. Jacobus reportedly has been trying to sell the site. On Monday, he declined to say whether the property is for sale, or to comment about the possible change in uses for Davidson East. “I prefer to let reporters get their information from other sources,” he said.
The land is on the north side of N.C. 73, east of the intersection with Davidson-Concord Road. It’s outside the town border, but within the town’s “extra-territorial jurisdiction,” or planning area. That means Davidson must approve any change in use for the Davidson East site, which is currently zoned “Neighborhood Center,” “Neighborhood Edge,” and “Neighborhood General Mixed-Use.” If the project is developed, it likely would be annexed by the town.
A consultant’s study said the site could be marketed to medical, automotive and aerospace manufacturers; pharmaceutical and life sciences companies; or data centers.
The N.C. DOT eventually hopes to widen N.C. 73 near the site, and to make improvements on other nearby state roads. But that work is still in the early stages. The site also would need water, sewer, gas and electric utilities. A wetlands survey has been done, but archaeological and historical surveys still are needed, the consultants said.
MEETING LOOKS AT PLAN
In a Dec. 15 meeting at River Run Country Club, about 35 Lake Norman area government officials heard a report on the site’s strengths and weaknesses by national site-selection firm McCallum Sweeney Consulting of Greenville, S.C. The 9-year-old firm has advised Boeing, Michelin, Nissan and several dozen other companies in finding sites for new plants.
McCallum Sweeney said the site has strengths, such as road improvements planned nearby and its proximity to both I-77 and I-85 and to Charlotte/Douglas International Airport.
But N.C. 73 is still a narrow two-lane road with no shoulders, and the acreage isn’t zoned for industry, the report says.
“Having the site zoned appropriately becomes a ‘must criterion’” for industry to locate there, Jeannette Goldsmith, a McCallum Sweeney principal, said at the meeting.
The site is slightly smaller than the consultants recommend, and also lacks an approved development plan.
Duke Energy helped fund the McCallum Sweeney study. The company’s Tammy Whaley told the group her company looks forward to sharing information about the park with numerous prospective tenants.
Duke Energy also offers $5,000 matching grants to governments and developers to help fund required environmental and utility studies for such projects.
“It’s about more than selling electricity,” Whaley said. “It’s about creating jobs, bringing capital investment to the county” and its northern towns.
In its report, McCallum Sweeney presented drawings that offer a rough outline of what a corporate park might look like on the site.
With McCallum Sweeney’s recommendations in hand, it’s time for everyone “to roll up our sleeves” and work to make the park happen, said Jerry Broadway, executive director of the nonprofit Lake Norman Regional Economic Development Corp., which is helping lead plans for the park.
Mayor Woods said the proposal has the support of the town, Mr. Jacobus and Duke Energy. “You have a willing landowner and seller, you have a community that’s interested in commercial economic development, and you have a utility that’s interested in sponsoring the site and helping to promote the site, and ultimately for use of their product,” the mayor told DavidsonNews.net.
“All in all, it’s an interesting process,” he said. “We hope it can generate interest in that site. The consultant has contacts with corporates who are interested in relocating and might find this to be a good site.”
Davidson town website, page for Davidson East