Ambitions to build a Town Center in Morrisville could cost $280 million, with $54 million of that coming directly from the town, a consultant told the Town Council Tuesday.
Eric Thomas of the UNC School of Government’s Development Finance Initiative said developing the proposed Town Center will cost more than a quarter of a billion dollars with much of that coming from private investors. At full buildout, the town could expect to reap about $2.45 million per year in parking leases and property taxes, Thomas predicted.
Thomas’ presentation was the first time the council heard potential costs and a timeline for the Town Center, which has been discussed for more than a decade.
Morrisville lacks a traditional downtown district with a dense mixture of retail, residential and public space. Park West Village, a prominent mixed-use development begun in 2007 on the site of a former pharmaceutical plant, is home to both apartments and a shopping center but lacks the gridded design and public amenities that many people associate with a downtown.
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Thomas’ presentation also included a tentative timeline for the completion of the project, which is split into three phases with public investments front-loaded into the first two. The entire center is projected to be complete by 2025, but the two preliminary phases, the first of which will include the new county library, should be done by 2019 and 2021 respectively.
The proposed Town Center would be developed on land near the current town campus along Morrisville Carpenter Road and Town Hall Drive into a grid of streets lined with mixed-use buildings, featuring retail and office space on the ground floors and apartments and condos above. All told, the district would house 1,300 residential units, mostly apartments and condos, and 130,000 square feet of retail space.
A new 45,000-square-foot community center, the 8,500-square-foot county library and a 540-space parking deck have been recommended as public investments that could draw private investors to the site to build commercial and residential real estate. The remainder of the $54 million would go toward road construction and other infrastructure costs.
Several council members expressed skepticism toward both the projected price of such a large community center – $9 million – and the suggestion that the town should be responsible for building a parking deck.
“Why are we getting in the business of building parking structures?” asked Councilman Satish Garimella. “We like the library and understand the concept of a community center, but why can’t private investors, the businesses, do the parking deck?”
Councilwoman Vicki Scroggins-Johnson also said she is worried about how the town could finance an investment on that scale, given the town is expected to brush up against its debt ceiling around the time the first $27 million phase of public investment is expected.
The council will discuss that question and others at a Town Center work session open to the public on Tuesday, Nov. 1, in the council chambers.
Electoral district map approved
After months of discussion, the council approved by a 5-2 vote a new map of electoral districts to apply to its 2017 council elections.
Three new maps were compiled by Morrisville’s planning staff over the summer and fall to correct for population imbalances among electoral districts revealed by a special town census in 2015, the result of rapid but uneven growth during the past five years.
In Morrisville, council districts apply only to those who wish to run for office. Of the six council seats, four are districted and two are at-large, meaning anyone living anywhere in town can contest them.
The two votes against the map came from Council Members Liz Johnson and TJ Cawley, who will both occupy the same district under the boundaries adopted Tuesday.
Neither cited that as the reason for their dissent. Cawley said he would prefer a move to an all-at-large council, or failing that, to not adopt a new map until the town is required to do so by law after the 2020 Census. Johnson has said she would prefer another map that allows up to a 10 percent variance from the average district size, her argument being that greater flexibility in map-drawing would prevent more residents from being moved a second time when another new map is adopted next decade.
Mayor pro tem Steve Rao said he gradually has come to support the chosen map, which, of the three proposed, brings each district’s population closest in line with the average.
“The major reason that convinced me not to delay till 2020 is because we likely wouldn’t receive our census results until 2021, which means we wouldn’t get new districts until 2023,” Rao said. “So we’re looking at another six years. We’re already 20 percent off, so we could get to 30, 40 percent.”
Gargan: 919-460-2604; @hgargan