Suburbs vs. core city?
As High Point commits millions of dollars toward infrastructure for two industrial parks on its northern fringes, will that mean the core city gets short shrift?
Last month, the City Council agreed to finance construction of water and sewer lines estimated to cost $5 million to open and develop a 350-acre corporate park in Forsyth County.
A second site that could grow to 500 acres between Sandy Ridge Road and Interstate 40 was recently annexed by the city. The city is spending about $800,000 to provide sewer service to the first phase of any future project there.
Both coincide with the recent unveiling of the Ignite High Point Master Plan, which proposes 14 revitalization projects within the urban core, some of which will likely need public money to get off the ground.
City leaders say the industrial park initiatives are not competing for funds with the master plan projects.
City Councilwoman Judy Mendenhall said the Forsyth project — led by developer Robin Team, who says he has a large corporate client set to build at Interstate 74 and N.C. 66 if the site is served by city water and sewer — holds out the prospect of a large number of jobs and sizable addition to High Point’s tax base once it’s annexed into the city.
“We keep hearing from all corners — jobs, jobs, jobs. Economic development — that’s what we keep hearing,” said Mendenhall. “I happen to think that extension of water and sewer to these outlying areas that will then develop is an investment in the furture.”
She said the proposals in the master plan, by urban architectural firm Duany Plater-Zyberk (DPZ) of Miami, aren’t the same type of economic development generators as the industrial parks.
“I think it’s two different things, so I don’t see a conflict,” said Mendenhall.
It makes sense for the city to put money into the Forsyth project because it’s far less risky, with the potential for much greater rewards, than any of the DPZ projects at this point, said Councilman Jason Ewing.
For instance, he said one of the proposals in the master plan — “the pit,” a former downtown parking lot that Ignite High Point supporters want to turn into a recreational and artistic attraction for the younger generation — doesn’t have anywhere near the promise of the Forsyth industrial park, in terms of job creation and tax base.
“Everything that was proposed with the pit is kind of a ‘If-you-build-it, they-will-come’ type theory. We could dump a million dollars in there and it could flop,” said Ewing.
It’s clear to anyone familiar with the views of Andres Duany of DPZ that he is no fan of industrial parks in the suburbs. So the use of city funds to help them develop miles from downtown High Point seems to fly in the face of the master plan.
Ewing said he’s sympathetic to this point of view, and doesn’t want to shortchange revitalization efforts.
“I’ve talked to some people that are concerned that, while we’re trying to revitalize downtown, we’re putting a lot of money into growing the suburbs, and I certainly see an argument there,” said Ewing.
City Project Chairman Richard Wood, whose organization commissioned the master plan and is leading the effort to get the revitalization proposals implemented, said he supports the city expenditures on behalf of the proposed industrial parks.
“We’d love to have that money go into the core city, but we certainly understand the city’s got to do this,” said Wood. “It’s spreading out, taking people away from the center city, but so many buildings in the core city are single-purpose buildings and are not in a park-like setting.”
He argued that the master plan projects can fit “hand-in-glove” with the planned industrial parks.
“What we’re doing is economic development too. It’s not same number of jobs, but it will increase the value of real estate, and hopefully we’ll have more real estate be developed,” said Wood.