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Charlotte council approves funding for Atrium innovation district project

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A proposed Atrium Health $1.5 billion innovation district received recent approval of the Charlotte City Council for its share of about $75 million in public funding for infrastructure initiatives.

The innovation district would be built near the planned Wake Forest School of Medicine slated to open in 2024.

The $75 million public investment consists of $60 million in tax increment grants and $15 million in bonds that will be reimbursed.

About $38.6 million is being asked of Mecklenburg County and about $36.4 million from the council.

With the council’s approval, Charlotte city manager Marcus Jones can begin negotiating an agreement with Atrium.

The commissioners could vote on Atrium’s proposal by the end of the month.

The county grants essentially would serve as property-tax reimbursements to help pay for a $28 million, 800-space parking deck in the district.

Part of the Atrium and Wexford pitch to the commissioners is that the county still would have about an $18 million property-tax gain over the 13-year period, plus an additional $5 million annual “in perpetuity,” Atrium chief executive Eugene Woods told commissioners.

At least 11,500 new jobs, including potentially 3,450 to 4,600 that won’t require a four-year college degree, are projected to be created over 15 years within the planned district and the future medical school campus.

The commissioners held a 2¼-hour public-planning meeting Nov. 9 on Atrium’s proposal.

Woods and Wexford Science + Technology officials spent about an hour on presentations designed to encourage commissioners to provide $38.4 million in tax-increment grants over 13 years.

Although most commissioners expressed support for the overall project, several spent the remaining 75 minutes of the meeting questioning why so much public funding was needed when there are other pressing socioeconomic needs.

The 40-acre district would be near a planned Wake Forest medical school campus slated for construction to begin in 2022 and for opening in 2024.

Charlotte is the nation’s largest city without a four-year medical school.

Wake Forest School of Medicine also governs downtown Winston-Salem’s Innovation Quarter, which currently covers 1.2 million square feet, under the auspices of Wake Forest University.

Wexford has been hired to recruit businesses, nonprofit and health care researchers to its planned district.

Meanwhile, Innovation Quarter officials announced June 14 that Wexford would be the main developer for Phase II of its district which could yield as many as 10 buildings and up to 2.7 million square feet of medical and mixed-use development on a 28-acre site.




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