Carolina North: Two Years of Diminishing Economic Expectations

Wednesday, May 30th, 2007

Yesterday’s Carolina North outreach, once again, was heavy on promises – the vast possibility of grey goo, the escalating energy efficiencies of blue sky projections – light on details.

As a NC taxpayer, I’ve been waiting for UNC to produce a real, updated business plan reflecting 2007’s economic realities. Hey, we’re plunking down billions at the Carolina North craps table – it would be nice to have a quantitative, verifiable analysis of the project’s risk-reward profile.

Chancellor Moeser, you owe us NC taxpayers a reality-based report on our expected rate of return for our vast collective investment.

And, please, not another self-serving 2004 Market Street Services economic impact analysis report [PDF], which, to be charitable, was a fluffy confection spun from dreams of an enduring legacy, chunks of ad hoc economic observations and community boosterism of the worst calibre.

Your Carolina North quarterback, Jack Evans, reset the economic expectations yesterday (May 29th). Your team, with barely two months left of your self-imposed deadline, will have to drive hard to produce a believable economic impact report.

To give a small bit of perspective on how far we’ve come, here is UNC’s May 25, 2005 PR trumpeting the benefits of Carolina North:

Study shows Carolina North will be catalyst for jobs, tax revenue

CHAPEL HILL – Carolina North, the proposed living and learning campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, will generate 7,500 local jobs and about $48 million in annual tax revenues by 2020, according to an economic impact study released today. It also has the potential to position Carolina as a leading national center of research and public-private partnerships, according to Market Street Services of Atlanta, which conducted the study for the university.

“Carolina North will expand Carolina’s multiple missions, boost innovation and redefine our engagement with the region, state and world,” said University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Chancellor James Moeser. “The great news from this study is that Carolina, through Carolina North, can continue to be a catalyst for the economic transformation of our state.”

The Carolina North draft conceptual plan outlines concepts for mixed-use development at a 900-plus-acre tract of UNC-owned property one mile north of the main campus off Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard (formerly Airport Road). The draft plan proposes to develop only about 25 percent of that total site over the next 50 to 70 years. Carolina North would include classrooms, labs, housing, schools, community spaces, offices and limited commercial space in a campus-and-village setting.

Carolina North would attract private companies to Chapel Hill to partner with university faculty to transform faculty research into products and

services to improve quality of life. Public-private partnerships would allow the university mission to grow at a time when state and federal funding are no longer growing at previous rates.

The Market Street study will be presented at Thursday’s (May 26) meeting of the university’s Board of Trustees. The study includes analysis of the projected economic impacts at the end of the project’s second phase (15 years) and at full build-out (50 years).

Other study highlights include:

· In the first two phases alone (15 years), the gains in the local and state economies reflect similar numbers to a medium-sized firm building new headquarters in the area year after year.

· By the end of phase 2 (approximately 2020)

Tax Impact: About $48 million in tax revenue annually
$26 million in state income tax
$14.6 million in state sales tax
$2.8 million in local sales tax
$5 million in property tax

· Employment Impact:

7,500 full-time, ongoing jobs (non construction)
$433 million in annual salary and personal income
8,876 construction-related jobs
$353 million in salary and personal income (construction)

· Business Revenue:

$600 million in annual business revenue (non construction)
$979 million in business revenue (construction)

Plans for Carolina North are still in the conceptual design phase. Before the university can move forward to collaborate with the towns of Chapel Hill and Carrboro on the plans, it must resolve issues related to the university-owned Horace Williams Airport, which occupies part of the Carolina North tract.

The university announced in April 2002 that it would close Horace Williams Airport. In September 2002, the N.C. General Assembly passed legislation requiring the university to keep the airport open until January 2005. In July 2004, the legislature adopted language requiring the university to keep the airport open until an accessible replacement facility could be found for Medical Air, which serves the university’s Area Health Education Centers program.

The N.C. Senate recently passed a special provision that would allow the university to close the airport, provided that Medical Air operations have access to, or utilize, the Raleigh-Durham International Airport to serve the needs of patients, physicians and passengers associated with AHEC’s statewide programs.

The university’s Board of Trustees also will hear a report at its Thursday meeting about a consultants’ study to help the university identify an alternative site for an airport.

-30-

For a copy of the full economic impact study report, please go to: http://cn.unc.edu/economic_impact.pdf

Interviews with Market Street consultants can be arranged through News Services. In addition, for comment about the economic impact of Carolina North on the local community, reporters may call Aaron Nelson, executive director of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce, at 919-967-7075.

I wonder if the Chamber’s Aaron Nelson, today, would give that report a passing grade?

Hard to believe given that today’s paucity of detail, the changing nature and scope presented yesterday and the rather obvious flaws ($5 million in property taxes? Really?) in Market Street’s Carolina North sales brochure.

Carolina North’s Evans: Don’t pin me down…

Thursday, September 7th, 2006

A third of the way through my second “live” LAC meeting – the second with Evans as UNC’s point man – and a nascent theme from the last meeting has emerged full-blown: “Don’t pin me down…”

Last week [PDF], when questioned on specific environmental goals for Carolina North, Evans dismissed specific language.

Dan Coleman: Can we assume that the University does not want Carolina North to have a negative impact on the air quality of Chapel Hill? Given the way the principle is worded, is it the word ‘insure’ that is too strong a word? Is the hang-up in that phrase?

Jack Evans: My interest is not in wordsmithing. Agreed that we want a different wording for that section. The University people are interested in doing something innovative here; but we don’t want to find ourselves trapped by wording that doesn’t have the right intention/target…

Further, when asked about using stiff protections to limit growth to a specific sized footprint at Carolina North, BOT member (and local developer) Roger Perry responded

Ken Broun: Others will have a chance to comment. University comments: University disagrees: preserve in perpetuity the maximum amount of open space, with goal of preserving 75% of Horace Williams property.

Roger Perry: The problem: we are firmly committed to building Carolina North on as small a portion of the property as possible; are committed to environmentally protecting Bolin Creek and sensitive environmental areas to the best possible reasonable practices. That will leave additional land in Carolina North, after you take out the footprint for Carolina North and the environment protection areas and the green spaces and trail system. There’s no way that the Board of Trustees could take the rest of that land and say that it will never be developed. Not responsible, even if we could. Technologies change. Needs change. Missions change. That remaining land that is developable is an asset of the State of North Carolina. To say that it would never be used is not responsible, in keeping with our mission to the State. We would never be able to do that.

More on Perry’s strange, strained intransigence later.

This week, Evans expressed concern that the local Chamber of Commerce’s request that “Carolina North Creates public amenities such as schools, parks, conference facilities, performance space, trails and greenways that are open and welcoming to the general public” would be used as a firm list of deliverables. In other words, this desire would eventually transmute into a promise to provide “a school,a park,a performance space”, etc.

The committee turns to transit.

Wow! Evans: “single occupancy vehicles critical to Carolina North”.

Comments from UNC’s delegation following that interesting revelation seem to indicate a decision, absent the pending transit study and analysis, that the single occupancy vehicle is king at Carolina North.

Their claims have the feeling of a conclusion chasing a justification.

Evans trundles out the red-herring smoke screen that Carolina North’s build out will be very slow…that it will take decades to reach a daily population of 20,000. I say red-herring because the recent massive main campus build out demonstrated that when UNC has the will and the money, they can build like mad.

Finally (at least for this update), Roger Perry comments he’s never seen a development brought before Council where Council has asked for some of the workers to be housed on-site. Of course, he has seen, with his own Meadowmont, a requirement that residents’ kids be schooled on-site.

This seems to be a continuing theme from UNC’s delegation: Carolina North is, short term, a small development – a development essentially no different than a private development – and the “conditions” that elected folk want to moderate its more negative impacts somehow violate “equal protection” , so to speak.

I’ll be digging through this weeks video to try to capture the nuance of UNC’s transit nyets. Hopefully, the video will be up on the Carolina North site fairly quickly. Until then, here’s a link [Video of August 24, 2006 meeting of Leadership Advisory Committee (WMV)] to last weeks.

Crawford-Brown: “I’ll take the brickbats from both sides…”

Thursday, September 7th, 2006

Dr. Crawford-Brown claimed at today’s LAC meeting that he feels he does more work on behalf of Chapel Hill’s Town Council than for the University even though he’s a member of the University’s delegation – and the director of UNC’s Carolina Environmental Program.

Trying to clarify his role, Crawford-Brown said he’s here as a scientist, an expert and that, though he works for UNC, he’s giving his balanced opinion. Or, as he colorfully put it, “I’ll take brickbats from both sides…”.

Dan Coleman followed up Crawford-Brown’s statement by asking Dean Jack Evans what role, then, was Crawford-Brown playing vis-a-vis UNC’s delegation. Essentially, he was asking Evans if Crawford-Brown’s statements should be construed as representing the University’s position. Evans danced around, avoiding answering the question, because he feels the firm roles of the committee members shouldn’t be pinned down while the substantive content of the recommendations are being formalized.

Sure, Crawford-Brown has a tough balancing act trying to forge a coherent vision of environmental analysis at Carolina North both as a member of the UNC delegation and a concerned scientist.

He is in an unenviable position considering he’s been positioned by UNC’s Jack Evans as their environmental expert. No matter what, to preserve his value as “THE” expert, he must continue to maintain at least the appearance of making unbiased appraisals of the LAC’s environmental strategies wherever his loyalties lie.

Evans could’ve helped Crawford-Brown by clarifying his specific role as “the expert.”

More on Crawford-Brown’s personal environmental philosophy.

4:17pm UNC Leadership Advisory Committee meeting on Carolina North development.

Carolina North: My Own Words? A Recap of My Aug. 24th Environmental Request to the LAC

Thursday, September 7th, 2006

According to the online minutes [PDF] of August 24th’s Carolina North Leadership Advisory Committee meeting, this is what I asked for…

Will Raymond, citizen of Chapel Hill, former member of HWCC: Speaking on own behalf. Wants to talk about the environmental assay, which was an issue brought up by HWCC. Like what BioHabitats is doing, but it’s not extensive enough/not a true environmental assay that UNC would be capable of doing. Want University to look at this property as a science experiment; are performing a major experiment on it. Look at it the same way you look at 100 acres in the deep jungle: looking for champion species of trees, real counts of flora and fauna, on/off-site evaluations of air pollution. No good hydrological studies/no good on-off site air studies. Want the committee to do that, but put as a core principle continuous monitoring after the fact.

Troubled: Dean Evans referenced the minimum specs of the state; that concerns me; want to shoot for the stars, as George said. Should have world-class goals. University is capable of doing that. No one player should bear the burden? There is no other player that is building a community/development the size of Hillsborough in Chapel Hill. Unique project deserves unique environmental assay to determine the baselines.

Two minutes is not much time to cover a fairly extensive and somewhat nuanced perspective on the incredible environmental potential Carolina North’s development presents our State.

Many other great quotes highlighting Evan’s subtext throughout the minutes….

Next meeting is September 7th at the Friday Center.

UNC’s Moeser Prefers Butting Heads Over Carolina North…

Thursday, September 7th, 2006

One would assume UNC’s Chancellor Moeser prefers confrontation over collaboration – at least that’s what I think based on his choice of sports metaphors.

Along those lines, Chapel Hill News’ Mark Schultz chose an apt title, University puts on its game face, for my second CHN My View column.

Forming up across the slippery turf, the ragtag home team awaits the strong-arm tactics of a well-fortified offense. The ball is snapped. Team coverage failing, Broun dances, weaves, slips and fumbles the ball.

Timeout.

Under pressure, Coach Moeser watches the irate boosters, big-money guys, circle overhead. Yelling over the bellicose boosters’ truculent chants of “Take it to the goal,” Moeser leans forward into the huddle.

“Look boys, three points, four minutes, there’s plenty of time to turn this game around.”

As the team spreads onto the field, two heavyweight alums, Carter and Burnett, charge the bench. Sounds like they’re reminding the coach of his duty to build a grand legacy.

Responding to the barbs, the coach turns to his deep bench, looking for a solid, conservative, steady player to replace the current quarterback. “Evans. He’s got the background, the connections and, by gosh, he’s a true believer.”

Football in early August? No. Instead, unfortunately, UNC’s never-ending development games.

With the recent two-year appointment of “quarterback” Jack Evans, 10-year veteran Council-member Pat Evans’ husband and longtime Kenan-Flagler business dean, Chancellor James Moeser has signaled a troubling return to a historically failing strategy.

Moeser’s characterization of Evans’ role sets up a fake reverse. “On offense, he’ll try to help devise a plan for Carolina North that meets both university needs and community demands.”

On the other side of the ball, “Evans should be adept at reading the defense.”

Community demands? Reading the defense? A revealing and polarizing choice of words.

Centrally located, rivaling Hillsborough in scale, Carolina North is a huge project. Few residents will not feel its impact. Done right, the project could be the genesis of incredible academic and economic progress. Done wrong, our community will have a noisome blight, our taxpayer’s a terrible money pit.

Yes, Moeser is under pressure from an impatient UNC Board of Trustees. “Let’s fish or cut bait here,” as trustee Tim Burnett said in May just prior to the BOT setting an arbitrary October 2007 deadline for completing this critical phase of the process. Burnett claims he doesn’t “see how we can have the luxury of talking anymore. We’ve got to come up with a plan.”

What about UNC’s Leadership Advisory Committee? At a luxurious cost of $208,210 per year, what role does the high-stepping, hard-charging “quarterback” play? Made up of distinguished faculty, administrators, trustees, a few local elected officials and their representatives, the advisory committee has already advanced the yardstick. With the adoption of a number of key environmental, transit, financial and sustainability guiding principles as outlined by Chapel Hill’s Horace Williams Citizen’s Committee (of which I was a member), they’ve cleaved to their founding charter and taken “the first and most important step” of developing “the guiding principles for the physical development of Carolina North.”

A shame, then, that some of the trustees are falling back on the “same old, same old” pattern of conduct such as a thinly veiled threat, reminiscent of Sen. Tony Rand’s 2001 reprisal, to legislatively remove Chapel Hill’s zoning authority.

When Moeser officially announced the advisory committee’s formation, deep in December, some longtime UNC observers felt this was yet another attempt to create a false sense of community approval. “We’ve been down this road before” was a common refrain.

Yes, sometimes you need to look back to move forward. UNC’s recent handling of campus development is certainly rife with insensitivity, subterfuge and BOT upsets. Hard-won trust is easily lost. Even so, I asked folks to shed their mistrusts, start anew, and help forge a common vision of Carolina North’s future.

For most every early fumble — Chairman Ken Broun’s desire for secrecy, town’s disinterest in outside presentations, UNC’s unwillingness to field questions — there’s been incremental gains. Carolina North’s 17,000 parking spaces: off the table. Chapel Hill’s sovereign right to manage zoning: reaffirmed. A fairly thorough environmental assay, suitable for establishing a longitudinal baseline of the Horace Williams property: promised.

I’m not Chapel Hill’s defensive linebacker. I want to see a world-class Carolina North centered on “green technology.” For that, UNC’s leadership must break its habitual worldview of “us” and “them.”

Chancellor Moeser let me suggest a change of sports metaphors. Not football. Golf. Specifically, “scramble” golf.

Playing “scramble” rules, everyone is on the same team. Each player takes a stroke. The team moves on to the best shot and plays from there. Essentially, everyone contributes and excellence is reinforced.

A bit more rewarding, I believe, than butting heads.

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