Stallings leaders have been wanting to create a downtown environment for years, but the town council has not yet reached a consensus on whether now is the right time to get started.
The town has an offer on the table from Development Finance Initiative to help Stallings analyze the market, including the supply and demand for uses like retail, residential, office and hospitality, as well as identify opportunities for public-private partnership. Once complete, the town could contract with DFI again for pre-development services and the recruitment of private partners.
Councilwoman Lynda Paxton hasn't made up her mind about the contract. She believes $70,000 is a lot of money for a town the size of Stallings and she wishes there was more certainty on the pricing of future contracts. DFI won't know how much to charge for a second contract until it determines the scope of work during the first one.
Then there's the challenge of timing. Paxton pointed to the future Atrium Health hospital under construction, the potential for a Stallings stop on the future LYNX Silver Line and a town election on the horizon. There is concern among some on the council that a newly elected board may adopt new town priorities and a restart on projects like this.
David Scholl believes the combination of those factors is why Stallings must move forward now. He said the work the council has done in terms of drafting small area plans offers a good foundation for moving forward.
“The longer we wait, the harder the study and implementation of whatever might come of it, the harder it gets,” Scholl said. “The timing is right.”
Councilman Brad Richardson sees the $70,000 contract as a good return on investment.
“This is a good use of funds in my opinion to keep us from making mistakes down the road that could be multiples of this,” Richardson said.
Councilman John Martin cautioned colleagues about continually kicking the can down the curb on things the community wants.
“At some point in time, we've got to put a stake in the ground and stick our necks out,” Martin said. “Whether that politically costs us, that's for each of us to decide. We can't fall into the trap of the what-ifs. We have to dream a little bit here.”
Formed by the UNC School of Government, DFI assists communities on economic development projects. DFI has helped Kannapolis revitalize its downtown and Morrisville establish an identity for its town center.
Most of the questions Stallings Town Council asked of DFI staff was in regards to pricing. One member asked how often communities tend to bow out after the first contract. The council will explore the offer more during the fiscal year budget process this spring.
Town staff reached out to DFI after a panel of downtown development experts told the council during their February retreat that their vision for downtown may not match market realities and their strategies were underfunded.