Monday, April 18, 2016

Are the "good guys" winning Davidson’s Catalyst Project debate?

Proposed Catalyst Project Site
In this case, the "good guys" would be town citizens who oppose the project, and judging by last week's discussion at Davidson Town Hall, the answer to to this post's title question appears to be a resounding "yes".

Five options were presented to the Town Board for discussion last Tuesday.  In those options, there were several indications that the Birkdale-esque proposal rolled out last October is DOA, or at the very best it's on life support.

Most notably, none of the options included a hotel of any size.  The addition of a 100+ room hotel in the October presentation provided the initial spark that ignited citizen pushback on the whole idea.

When asked about the absence of a hotel in the list of ideas, all Town Economic Development Director Kim Fleming had to say was "currently it is not part of any option that we are studying."

As for the ideas that are on this list, they range from doing little more than moving police and fire off site and keeping administration at Town Hall to options with varying levels of intensity all of which were less intense than the earlier ideas presented.  Though to be fair, the largest ideas on the table would still be too big for many people in town.  They would still include significant residential numbers on the order of 100 units.

Commissioners also seemed keen to distance the current discussion from the earlier Catalyst Project proposal.

At one point Commissioner Beth Cashion said three times that discussing these new ideas and asking the project consultants to look at them further does not commit the town to anything.  She was emphatic on that point.  Commissioner Jim Fuller pondered whether or not the new ideas should even be called "Catalyst" because they are so scaled back.

One tangible impact of reducing the size of any project on the town owned property is how it would be funded.

Initially, the Catalyst Project was talked about in terms of a Public Private Partnership (P3) where there was little public funding involved other than the land.  At the meeting last week, Flemming mentioned that it was now looking like more of a publicly funded effort.  To that point Commissioner Rodney Graham asked if the consultants from the UNC School of Government could get back to the town in short order on the new options so the information could be incuded in decision making for the new budget year starting July 1st.

If any new version of the Catalyst Project goes forward as a primarily publicly funded effort, that would likely mean using some general obligation bonds requiring voter approval.

That would seem to put the "god guys" - aka the voters - in the driver's seat, and that certainly would be a good thing.

This is ot over yet, however.  The project definitely needs the public to stay focused. It's not anywhere near fully resolved, but things do appear to be headed in the right direction.

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