BY STACIE LETT CAIN
The Statesville City Council began discussions Monday night on a feasibility study about the possibility of converting the Jane Sowers Road/ Interstate 77 overpass into an interchange.
The change, according to some members of council, could boost commercial development in that area, but vagueness about what would happen after the study caused some hesitation.
“Is this study necessary to get us to the next steps in this possible conversion?” Councilman Steve Johnson asked Planning Director Sherry Ashley. “I have a real concern about us spending this money and then having this study put on a shelf and this never going anywhere.”
Ashley answered that having the study completed, which after a grant, would cost the city roughly $60,000, was necessary to move on to the next steps in getting the overpass changed to an interchange.
This investment, however, was deemed a worthwhile one if it brought with it the possibility of major development in that area.
“It wasn’t that long ago that I sat in a room with Target and talked about a distribution center that we lost because that area didn’t have an interchange,” Johnson explained. “It cost us a $1.4 million company and 800 jobs. I don’t know if we could get something like Target in here again, but it would be nice to not have to walk away from something like that again.”
Council members also expressed little optimism that the state would provide the funding for construction.
“My understanding is that we are looking at a $25 to $30 million price tag on this and my understanding is that the DOT is broke anyway,” Johnson added. “What good does it do to do this study if there are no funds to do the project?”
City Manager Ron Smith provided some insight into why the study may lead to bigger things.
“Paying $60,000 for the feasibility study is a small step toward a developer gaining the confidence that the area can be developed and that interchange built,” Smith explained. “If we have a developer interested in a 400-acre development site, they might be interested enough to fund part of this interchange project if they know that we were serious enough about development that we already had the feasibility study done.”
A question that couldn’t be answered at Monday’s meeting was how long the feasibility would be valid so the decision was made to postpone a vote on the issue for 60 days.
But Ashley advised the council that failing to accept the Surface Transportation Block Grant Direct Atrributable (STBG-DA) shortfall funds for the project in the amount of $242,000 could result in those funds being forfeited and distributed to other communities looking for assistance.
In other business:
♦ The council voted to approve a five-year lease at the Statesville Regional Airport with Iredell Air Care, but the approval was based on a recommendation by Airport Manager John Ferguson, granting some leniency in the first year of the lease.
The recommendation from the Statesville Airport Commission included a 30 percent increase in rent in the first year of the lease, in addition to renters paying their own utilities. Ferguson believed, in light of COVID-19 and the hit small businesses have taken, that the increase was unduly harsh.
“I do not agree with the commission’s recommendation because of the increase in the first year,” Ferguson explained. “I believe that with dealing with the financial fall out from COVID and knowing the large impact that has had on small businesses, raising the rent 30 percent and requiring payment of their own utilities is asking too much.”
Johnson agreed, saying that although he had voted in support of the commission recommendation, that he would support Ferguson’s recommendation in front of council, which the council moved to pass unanimously.
♦ Mayor Costi Kutteh announced that former Statesville Mayor Thomas A. Fanjoy, had passed away. Fanjoy served as mayor from 1973-1979.