Wake County

Raleigh City Council votes down proposal for economic development fund

A plan meant to spur economic development near two future affordable housing projects east of downtown stalled in city council on Tuesday.

Councilwoman Mary-Ann Baldwin wanted the council to set aside $3 million from the city’s reserve fund to create a new economic development fund. She proposed that the city spend money first in the Tarboro Road area after city staff created criteria for allocating the money.

Tarboro Road runs through the East College Park neighborhood, which is part of a recently adopted revitalization plan. The city will convert properties it owns into affordable housing and help current homeowners rehabilitate aging properties.

The plan also includes Washington Terrace, an existing low-income neighborhood that is being redeveloped by DHIC, a nonprofit that is working with the city.

“We are now going to spend money and work with partners on an affordable housing project in the Tarboro Road area,” Baldwin said during a council meeting Tuesday. “To me, it makes a lot of sense.”

But some other council members were hesitant to create a fund and promise money to a project without an established process for allocating money.

Councilman Eugene Weeks, who represents Southeast Raleigh, including the Tarboro Road area, backed the proposal and pushed for action to be taken Tuesday. He lost his reelection bid last month, and Tuesday’s council meeting was his last.

Corey Branch, a lifelong Southeast Raleigh resident, won Weeks’ seat.

“This area has been neglected for a long time (and) we’re still talking about what we want to do, but nothing has been done,” Weeks said.

Baldwin said she wasn’t sure what is most needed on Tarboro Road, but her proposal suggested that staff pinpoint details before spending any money.

City Manager Ruffin Hall suggested an economic development fund during the latest budget cycle, but the council instructed staff to bring back the proposal next year, with criteria for ranking projects.

Staff is still fleshing out the details, but the council could create the fund before then, Hall said Tuesday.

Councilman John Odom, who also lost his reelection bid last month, suggested using the money to recruit businesses to the Tarboro Road area.

“I view this as an incentive, like we give Red Hat and all the others that come in here, to create jobs,” Odom said. “This is the same type of thing, it’s just not called an incentive.”

But Mayor Nancy McFarlane said she felt uncomfortable creating the fund without first creating criteria for distributing the money. She was also unsure about the fairness of pushing Tarboro Road to the top of the list.

Council members Russ Stephenson, Bonner Gaylord and Kay Crowder agreed and voted against Baldwin’s proposal.

“I do appreciate the fact ... that we’ve brought this up periodically,” McFarlane said. “I’m OK allocating funds, but we need to weigh all the projects fairly.”

The city has other identified areas that need economic development, including Garner Road, “Mini-City” on Capital Boulevard, the Tower Shopping Center in East Raleigh and New Bern Avenue.

Odom said the city needs to give Tarboro Road attention soon.

“Until you allocate the funds, you’re not going anywhere with this,” he said. “It’s been on the table for many, many years.”

Mechelle Hankerson: 919-829-4802, @mechelleh