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Ask Matt ... about public money for Wingate

Matt Matteson answers readers questions.

Q. When the county invests $16.2 million in a building for a private school is that different than investing in a factory that would have the same benefit?

I spoke to County Manager Steve Wyatt regarding the difference between an industrial partnership and the five-party partnership with the City, County, BRCC, Pardee and Wingate University. Wyatt said that in a typical industrial "investment" in our state, the industry would generally be given the building outright as an incentive whereas in the case of the partnership, Wingate will lease part of the building. Another difference is that the partnership's benefits were many including economic, job creation, health care and education. Wyatt added that in the past, many local governments built industrial parks with spec buildings but too often those buildings stood vacant and never produced the intended jobs.
Hendersonville City Manager John Connet shared how a "silent partner" – our county's economic development agency – worked with a consulting firm to gauge the economic feasibility of the partnership. The consultant studied a collaboration that linked the City of Greenville, N.C., ECU's School of Medicine, Pitt Community College and the local hospital. That venture similarly included building leases to private business and also had a revitalization component. Connet puts the projected tangible benefits of the partnership at $18 to $22 million including construction, new jobs, new employee payroll, housing starts and retail spending. He lists future downtown development among a number of intangible benefits.

Q. What's up with Upward Road?

Delays – but light at the end of the tunnel, according to Aaron Powell, DOT's resident engineer. Most delays were attributed to the utility companies but there were items encountered after the road widening project began. Powell said, "The general contractor (Blythe Development Co. of Charlotte), could have filed for additional compensation due to idle equipment and labor but instead choose to only commit sufficient forces to keep their crews working and not waiting on a utility to be relocated. This saved DOT thousands of dollars a day but naturally it extended the project," said Powell. The widening will cost almost $25 million or about 5 percent over budget.
Last June the Lightning reported an early 2014 completion date. Now that date has been extended to June 28. "If that date is not met, liquidated damages (penalties) will be assessed against the contractor," said Powell. Most of the remaining work on Upward Road is paving. One minor project addition – a signalized pedestrian crosswalk at U.S. 176 – will be installed in July. A frustrated Powell admitted, "There were times when it seemed like very little was getting accomplished." He said he looks forward to the day that Upward Road is completed. Roger that.

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