GUILFORD COUNTY — The Guilford County Board of Commissioners approved economic development incentive grants Monday night for High Point’s downtown catalyst project and voted to help High Point minority- and women-owned businesses.
The board voted unanimously for a $100,000 economic development incentive grant for the High Point Equity Project, aimed at helping minority- and women-owned businesses. Vice Chairman Carlvena Foster made the motion to approve the request with the High Point Community Foundation serving as fiscal agent.
The downtown catalyst project stirred up more questions and concerns as board members voted 7-2 to approve the motion made by board member James Upchurch. The grant would pay $350,000 per year, starting in fiscal year 2022 and continuing for 20 years for a total of up to $7 million. Commissioners Justin Conrad and Alan Perdue voted against the grant request.
The grant will be used to support new development and not for existing debt, Upchurch said. During fiscal years 2022-26, the annual grant will be paid only when there is an increase in taxable real estate value. After that, the annual grant will be paid only in fiscal years when the increase in the rolling five-year average taxable value in the defined area is 3% or greater. Also, High Point will report to the county how the grant amount has been spent no later than June 30 each year.
Board members Kay Cashion and Carly Cooke asked for an amendment to specify that existing debt does not include costs of the multipurpose stadium, which opened in 2019, or any other project.
“With the goal in mind that we would like this investment to go toward new growth and new development, not some things that have already been achieved,” Cooke said. “I know I have received comments and concerns from constituents about our potential support of the stadium. This is not an incentive to support the stadium that is already completed.”
County Manager Michael Halford said the grant could be used for public infrastructure improvements within the catalyst area to encourage new development. In addressing how the county may benefit, Halford noted the first five years of the grant must show a positive increase in taxable value, and the remaining years have to show at least a 3% increase in taxable value in order for the incentive to be paid.
“If you look over the life of the incentive, the additional county tax revenue looks to be about $15.2 million or so. Obviously if there’s more investment in the area it would go up,” Halford said.
With the incentive cost at $7 million of that, the county stands to net about $8 million, Halford said.
Board member Carolyn Coleman also raised concerns about whether the money could be used for a parking deck or lighting to support the stadium. “I think we have to be careful,” Coleman said. “We’re not building a parking deck for any other city. Why would we go and build one for High Point?”
Chairman Skip Alston said the city of High Point has not shared plans for building a parking deck. “We don’t know what the demand is going to be,” Alston said.
Conrad said such unknowns are exactly why he opposes the grant request. “We don’t know what the money’s going to,” Conrad said. “All we know is we’re putting up $7 million.”
The discussion continued as High Point Mayor Jay Wagner and City Manager Eric Olmedo answered questions about the catalyst project and why it was needed.
“The furniture market is a blessing and a curse for the city of High Point,” Wagner said. “The Market is the single biggest economic event in the state of North Carolina every year. But what it has done over the course of our history is that it has robbed us of the vibrant type of downtown a lot of cities have and that we feel can make us competitive in the current economic environment.”
Wagner detailed ongoing downtown development projects, including a food hall, office buildings, a 250-apartment complex and a children’s museum.
“We feel it’s very important from a philosophical standpoint that the city of High Point and Guilford County work together as partners in economic development,” Wagner said. “Besides the money that’s really what this is all about, whether we can commit to work together because when we benefit you benefit.”
The county has collected about $550,000 in new tax revenue since the stadium was built, Wagner said. “This thing is already paying for itself, for y’all.”
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