Downtown Kannapolis, INC

Durham trip fuels Kannapolis ideas

Via Independent Tribune – A recent trip to Durham has given Kannapolis City Council ideas on revitalizing downtown Kannapolis, including using the old basements for spin off businesses tied to the North Carolina Research Campus and start up businesses.

Allowing taller new construction of more than five stories tall, possibly building a more than 7-story building on the old Plant 4 site also came up. The council also saw the benefits of having a mixed-use downtown, allowing for commercial and residential development, which would increase the density of people in the downtown.

But those ideas are not set in stone with the council still in the early stages of developing a downtown revitalization plan.

The council discussed the ideas during a recent work session with Development Finance Initiative, the organization that’s charged with guiding the revitalization efforts.

Michael Lemanski with DFI has used Durham as an example of how downtown revitalization can work. He helped Durham revitalization.

Potential in the basement

The council saw the American Underground, which has shared workspace and incubators. Council members said they could see a similar program in Kannapolis, using the unused basements for startup businesses that can’t afford the higher rent of a ground level business front.

The council also saw how multi-story buildings can maximize the amount of people that live and work downtown. Kannapolis Mayor Darrell Hinnant talked about how one Durham location had a relatively small foot print but had more than 200 apartments. Plant 4 could be a potential site for a similar project, which could be more than five stories high.

DFI is working on a 3D model that will be used at future public input sessions to give patrons an idea of what Kannapolis would look like with similar structures here.

Arts center or stadium

The council also discussed possible “game changers,” such as the Intimidators Stadium relocated to the downtown area, possibly the old post office site. It could be similar to the baseball stadium in downtown Durham.

The possibility of a performing arts center, similar to the Durham Performing Arts Center (DPAC) was also discussed.

Michelle Audette-Buaman with DFI discussed how those venues have helped Durham.

“Those were all active amenities. They are amenities that actively increase value of surrounding properties, they encourage walking and walkability to other sites and they capture demand from both the local and even more importantly, the regional marketing,” Audette-Buaman, said. “Only about 20 percent of visitors to the DPAC as well as the ball stadium are local. The rest of that demand is coming from the region.”

Hinnant said the visit showed how a stadium could boost the foot traffic in downtown and remembered a discussion he had with one of the Durham officials about the stadium.

“Minor league baseball is not about baseball, it’s about an entertainment feature or an entertainment event,” Hinnant said. “It is about ‘out there’ where you see the restaurants above the outfield; it is about nearby, where they have multiple restaurants… It is about family entertainment.”

If a baseball stadium were to be built downtown, it could be used to offer a unique look to an office complex, if council decided to develop a project similar to the baseball stadium in Durham, officials said. In Durham, there is an office complex that overlooks the stadium.

Lemanski said the attractive view of the complex overlooking the ball field has helped leverage higher office space rents. He said rents started at about $23 a square foot and now the latest phase of the project has rent at $33 a square foot.

DFI and the Kannapolis City Council are still in the early discussion stages and will have public input sessions to get feedback on how Kannapolis should revitalize itself and attract the right mix of businesses downtown.

While many potential business owners are already asking about setting up in downtown, officials say they need to wait until a development plan is in place.

Lemanski has already seen that challenge in Durham. He had a plan for the development, which called for a high scale restaurant that could be a destination location, bringing people downtown.

but a pharmacy wanted the same property. Lemanski had to decide whether he wanted the short term success of taking rent from the pharmacy or go for the long term goal, sticking to the plan, and holding out until a high end restaurant came to the location.

“When we acquired all these assets in downtown Durham — 30 distressed buildings, about a million square feet — we as a private sector entity took a lot of heat for, ‘Why aren’t you going ahead and putting tenants in these spaces? Why don’t you just let people use them as is?’” Lemanski said. “For us, we had this long term vision that we saw the potential of what could be here and we really held strong to our conviction that in order to get there we had to make some sacrifices.”

The plan for Durham meant focusing on bringing different retail and residential uses to the downtown and not just selling off properties to whoever wanted them, Lemanski said. That meant holding out for the high end restaurant that would be a destination to attract foot traffic and even more business.

“It would have been real easy for us, especially when the economy got bad, to just start dumping properties at below market values, just to stabilize ourselves, but we weren’t interested in that. We were sticking to our long term vision and it paid off really well,” Lemanski said. “We have to move beyond where we are today and what our potential is today and think about what our potential is 10 years from now and move toward that and try and find the tenants that are going to get us where we want to go.”

Contact reporter Michael Knox at 704-789-9133.